The White Cottage Mystery–Margery Allingham

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I chose to read this novel because it’s by an author that J.K. Rowling highly recommends.  I loved the straightforward prose and plot of this novel.  Constable W.T. Challoner and his son Jerry investigate a murder of a neighbor hated by everyone by gunshot in a locked room at waist level that everyone heard, but no one saw.  Cue beautiful mysterious women, trips to Paris, and lots of misdirection.  Now you have a perfect British cozy.

W.T. is the consummate professional and Jerry the promising, but naive, pupil.  W.T. questions suspects for entire chapters, revealing key details of the murder, while Jerry listens, impressed and slightly confused at the method behind his father’s madness.  W.T. then questions Jerry about his impression of the interview and corrects his errors.

Add a romantic subplot or two, international intrigue between Challoner and the Parisian authorities, as well as a disabled husband in a wheelchair and an adorable young daughter and the ingredient list is nearly complete.  The last piece is an ethical dilemma–what to choose between what is right according to the law or according to our good sense.

The careful craft of a cozy is on excellent display in The White Cottage Mystery.  Even the title is a model.  Thank goodness, however, that when J.K. Rowling chose to delve into the cozy genre, she added greater complexity and layers to her mix.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloombury for a review ebook.

 

Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation (Grantchester Mysteries): James Runcie

Forthcoming June 14, 2016

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I first met Sidney Chambers through Masterpiece Theater, where he is played by a very handsome young actor.  In the series, he is polished and, although curiosity is a major part of his character, and that which gets him involved in mysteries, he is not overly curious or overly interested in beautiful women.

This is the first of the books in the series upon which the television show is based that I have read and it was odd to meet a character as envisioned by the author when I had already met him on the screen.  Runcie’s Sidney is very curious.  In one of the stories that compose the novel Sidney’s German mother-in-law calls him nosy repeatedly–in German.  Runcie’s Sidney is also attracted to beautiful women, such as Barbara Wilkinson, whose troubles with her son, who has joined a commune, make up the first mystery in the novel.  A second mystery involves a stolen necklace and privileged college students.  Sidney’s friend Amanda and his former housekeeper both struggle with their marriages, forming two of the middle stories.  When Sidney and his German wife, Hildegard, vacation in East Germany Sidney encounters a murder that he solves but cannot bring to justice due to the corruption and secrecy of the communist regime there.  In the last story, Sidney faces and fights homophobia as he tries to help a dear friend.

The short quips and brief nature of the stories themselves took me by surprise.  Because the show contains hour-long mysteries, I expected the novel to contain one mystery that would unfold throughout the pages.  As I settled in, I found myself enjoying the way Runcie mocks Sidney and Sidney mocks himself.  Everyone mocks Sidney a bit and for various character foibles.

The title comes primarily from Sidney’s temptation, his thirst for beautiful women and mystery, but others are tempted along the way.  Each story involves someone tempted by love in some way, usually the wrong way, until the last story, when the reader is left to judge and Sidney himself does not agree with the outcome.

Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation was not a long read, helped by the short vignettes that compose the volume and the lighthearted prose and plots.  Runcie’s character, and the stories he features in, remind me of the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stories by Alexander McCall Smith.  Both are perfect for a Sunday afternoon snuggled on the couch or in one’s favorite reading chair or, by the time this volume comes out in June, maybe on a nice chair in the sunshine.  Then, if you are lucky, you can catch handsome Masterpiece Theater Sidney that Sunday evening.

Thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury for an advance copy for review purposes.

Finished 4/3/16

The Beautiful Mystery–Louise Penny

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Starting in the middle of a detective series is always difficult.  A dear friend recommended this Inspector Ganache novel because its setting in a remote Gilbertine monastery and the key role played by Gregorian chant are right up my alley.  Ganache is like many British series detectives.  He is quiet, brooding, and understatedly intellectual.  He enjoys Gregorian chant and has heard the recording made by the Gilbertines to whose monastery he and his right hand man, Beauvoir, are summoned to investigate the murder of the prior. Their investigation reveals a community divided between the abbot, to whom the monks swear obedience, and the prior, whose musical brilliance led their daily chanted prayers and their rise to international fame.  Woven through the drama underlying the murder is a secondary mystery involving neumes and the formation of the first musical notation.  A third plot continues a story from a previous installment of the series in which Ganache and Beauvoir were involved in an ambush that cost the lives of several of their comrades and earned Ganache the further enmity of his superior, Francoeur.

I enjoyed the mystery at the monastery and the characters, both monks and detectives.  However, the storyline from the previous novels of the series was difficult to read and left me angry at the novel’s end.  The plot twist also left me anxious to read the next in the series to see if events improve.  Thank goodness I am coming to the series late and not a reader who had to wait a year or two to find out what happened next.

 

Finished 2/7/16

In a Dark, Dark Wood–Ruth Ware

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Some plots are more equal than others and the plot to Ruth Ware’s debut novel is one.  Nora (Leonora) writes crime novels and lives alone in London.  She works from home and interacts with others primarily through email and text–and she prefers it.  She ventures outside several times a week to run, which she enjoys because of the sense of escape, of running away.  Ok, we got it.  She has issues, but what are they?

Ware begins with a familiar plot device–starting near the end.  Nora is in a hospital with wounds she cannot remember receiving.  Rather than wondering what happened to her, Nora’s first impulse is to wonder what she has done.  Curiosity piqued.

We get our first peek at Nora’s issues when Ware goes back to the near beginning.  Nora receives an email invitation to a hen party in Northumberland and wonders, why am I invited?  The hen is a woman she has not seen in ten years, since she was sixteen and left her hometown of Reading.  A quick email to a childhood friend who also lives in London, Nina, and a pact and, boom, they are both rsvp’ing to the hen party.

On the drive to the party, we find out that Nora fled Reading and her mother now lives in Australia with Nora’s stepfather, whom Nora does not seem to like much.  Nina is a tall, spiked-tongued, bronzed doctor with a Brazilian father.  Both Nora and Nina have mixed feelings about the hen, Clare, but are curious about the invite.  The party is in a modern glass-walled house in a deserted wood down a nearly unnavigable drive. The other guests include Clare’s university friends, Melanie, Tom (gay), and Flo (the maid of honor and hostess of the hen party).  Melanie is leaving her six-month-old for the first time.  Tom is a playwright.  Flo is too enthusiastic, and that enthusiasm continues to reveal itself suggesting mental instability supported by Melanie’s divulging that Flo had a breakdown at university and never finished.  Whatever her state, Flo is utterly devoted to Clare and pledged to give her the best hen party ever for the best hen ever.

Nora, claustrophobic almost on arriving, takes a run in the near-dark and encounters Clare as she comes back up the drive.  This gives Clare an opportunity to tell Nora that she is not invited to the wedding, at which Clare will wed Nora’s childhood sweetheart, James.  That is just the beginning of the weird.  There is no cell service at the house, which becomes creepier as dark falls and the inhabitants realize they are on view to whatever lurks in the woods. The guests take the edge off with tequila and begin to reveal bits of their stories and personalities.

Ware continues to move between the hospital, where Nora’s memory slowly returns, and the events of the hen party, which becomes creepier and creepier and includes a shotgun hung over the fireplace, a trip to the shooting range, and a night with a Ouija board.  Finally we learn that the party ended with the shooting of a midnight visitor.

I read the first half of the novel before bed and was seriously concerned that I would suffer nightmares as a consequence.  It was that good.  I finished in the morning, unable to put it down from waking until the last page.  As with other really good crime novels, I was uncertain whodunit until the end.  It was so good, I am considering re-reading it as an audible book to savor the drama enhanced by a good reader.

Finished 1/3/16