Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger!
Three dozen years ago, this Wednesday, I became a mom, bringing our son into the world. Derek did not slip quietly in, but roared with hunger and passion.
Today, he is a proud father and I’m a grandmother who lives too far away from her grandson. This year, I resolve to remedy this separation and cut my three hour flight, or three day drive, to less than a half hour. I also resolved, during my Christmas holiday family break, to return to reading, where I found my time better spent than hoping the next streaming series or movie would live up to its hype and being perpetually disappointed.
A few days before Christmas, I discovered an audiobook edition of one of my favorite books from the early 90s. Revisiting this novel thirty years later, it still brought tears to my eyes, but did not resonate as vibrantly as my rose-colored memories did. I’m glad I listened to it, but I’m not sure it rates a five star favorite ranking anymore.
I quickly followed that audiobook with my annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this year narrated by Frank Muller and recorded in 1980. I immediately listened to many other Christmas short stories, including The Night Before Christmas by Moore, A Country Christmas by Alcott, The Fir Tree by Anderson, The Birds’ Christmas by Wiggin and “Yes, Virginia There Is a Santa Claus.” Betwixt and between all the classic Christmas tales, I enjoyed the Dune graphic novel. On the final day of 2021, I started Connie Willis’ A Lot Like Christmas, which became my first book of ten to finish since the beginning of 2022.
Not as engaging as And Then There Were None , but still an entertaining exercise in murder mystery theatre. I confess I did not discover the true murderer until Hercule Peroit telegraphed it to me in the final chapters. However, I did suspect that the obvious in-your-face suspect was just that – too obvious. For the longest time, I was convinced Inspector Crome was the mastermind behind the serial murders, but thankfully, I was wrong on that count.
Brother Cadfael is thrust into the heart of political intrigue via his herb garden. Or rather, an unlikely new addition to the herb garden – a lay servant of youthful boyish appearance. Cadfael soon realizes his new assistant’s secret, and agrees to lend aid as he is able.
It is the time of King Stephen’s war upon the Empress Maude, granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Lines are drawn and England is divided. Stephen, also a grandson of William, has laid siege to Shrewsbury, on his way to fight Robert of Gloucester.
Stephen takes Shrewsbury but fails to acquire the prize personages who had been within it’s walls – FitzAlan and Adeney. After a thorough search of the town, these two are missing and the remaining garrison leader, Hesdin, does not reveal their whereabouts, even under torture. Adam Courcelle, one of Stephen’s captains, suggests that mercy to the garrison would be seen as a sign of weakness, so Stephen orders the entire garrison, and Hesdin, hanged immediately. Stephen’s Flemish mercenaries carry out this grim duty.
Brother Cadfael beseeches the Abbott and the king to allow the monks of the abbey to retrieve the bodies, prepare them for burial and allow the townsfolk to claim the bodies of their kin. While laying out the bodies, Cadfael discovers there are ninety-five, instead of ninety-four, bodies. And the extra corpse is a young squire, not a seasoned soldier. He reports this discrepancy to King Stephen, who agrees to allow Brother Cadfael to investigate and bring about justice.
The rest of the tale involves Cadfael’s continuing investigation, discoveries and battle of wits with various players in and around Shrewsbury. A medieval murder mystery well worth the reading.
An enjoyable variation on the Holmes theme. I discerned the major mystery and hidden mastermind behind it early (as I usually do), but missed the connection to the earlier mystery.
The characterization was better than most mystery novels I’ve read. I especially enjoyed the fugue of an intelligent deductive teenage woman (Mary Russell) juxtaposed with a retired bored (and lonely) Sherlock Holmes. The usual suspects cameoed: Mrs. Hudson; Dr. Watson; Mycroft; and, even Lastrade (TNG version).
I may continue with the series, when I need a break from my normal heavier, layered reading.
My first foray into the crime fiction genre. I liked private investigator Philip Marlowe. An intelligent, patient, witty guy treading water in the morass of 1930s Los Angeles society, both high and low. Amazing how closely connected the upper and lower strata actually are.
Marlowe accepted a job from a very wealthy elderly General, to investigate and thwart a blackmail attempt concerning his daughter. But blackmail wasn’t what was on everyone’s mind.
It’s hard to review mysteries, or crime, fiction without spoilers. So I won’t despoil your enjoyment of this classic. I do highly recommend it though.
I almost gave this book three stars (or less) because of the ending. I was disgusted with Agatha Christie’s cleverness. Up until the last couple of chapters, she strung me along, had me guessing, had me re-reading previous chapters to double-check facts. And them BAM! the last couple of chapters just made me cringe. I won’t spoil the ending or what frustrated me so thoroughly.
All the characters were vividly drawn and enthralling. The plot and storytelling delivered page-turning fervor and middle-of-the-night marathons. The mystery … I can’t comment on without spoiling.
I’ve read two other mysteries by Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None and The ABC Murders. This mystery falls in between those two from a reading and likability standpoint.
I’m probably the rare person who has never read or watched a Brother Cadfael medieval mystery. I enjoyed this inaugural foray into the Welsh countryside and those who dwell there. The characters were well written and the plot was fast paced and intriguing. The murder mystery had me stumped until nearly the end, when within the last couple of chapters I finally saw the light, though the author was circumspect with foreshadowing to heighten the surprise.
My only twinge were the strong women characters of Sioned and Annest. Perhaps I’m overanalysing but I’m not convinced that 12th century women (Welsh or not) would be so outspoken and forthright. I always fear that 20th (and now 21st) century authors are superimposing our liberated ideas on characters living nearly a thousand years before our times.
I don’t read mysteries very often, but perhaps I should pick them up more frequently. And Agatha Christie is definitely one of the masters of the mystery writing craft.
I could not put this book down. I just had to know what came next. I was even a bit confused after finishing the epilogue and still not knowing for sure who had orchestrated the elaborate scenario that resulted in ten murders and one suicide. But like nearly all serial killers, the murderer craved recognition and left us a message in a bottle.
Ten people stranded on an island a mile off the coast all of whom have skeletons in their closets. A nursery rhyme rewritten as a prophecy (self-fulfilling in more than one case) of doom. Mix the ingredients and let it bake in the August sun for two to three days and wallah! No survivors and many unanswered questions.
Definitely a must read for any mystery aficionado.
Thursday Next is happily married, pregnant, still working as a Literary Detective in SO-17 and the toast of the town of Swindon for her work in the case of The Eyre Affair. But all is not cookies and cream for long. Landen is eradicated by Goliath Corporation to blackmail Thursday into retrieving one of their employees incarcerated in Poe’s The Raven. And as if that’s not enough, her rogue chronoguard father warns Thursday the world will be consumed in pink gooey slime in a few days. Pickwick, her pet dodo, joins her in motherhood by laying an egg, much to the surprise of her owners who mistakenly assumed she was a he.
A confusing mystery from the alternate reality that Thursday Next operates in. Even she gets pulled dimensionally, becoming a Jurisfiction apprentice to Ms. Havisham of Great Expectations fame.
I enjoyed the puns, play on words and occasional witty humor. It’s a fun read, if a bit confusing at times trying to keep track of the alternate history and mystery.