Under Suspicion Series // by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

  • I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014)
  • The Cinderella Murder (2014)
  • All Dressed in White (2015)
  • The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016)
  • Every Breath You Take (2017)

A while back I read The Ex by Alafair Burke.  While it wasn’t the best thriller I had ever read, it was solid enough to make me add several of Burke’s other works onto the TBR.  However, when I added this series I didn’t realize that Burke was a co-author.  Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading any of the famous Mary Higgins Clark’s books, so I was actually pretty intrigued to delve into this series.

The first book was written by Clark on her own, and it sets the premise for the rest of the series.  The story opens when Greg, a young doctor, at the park with his three-year-old son, Timmy.  A stranger appears and murders Greg – and only Timmy sees his face.  Timmy remarkably is able to remember that the man had very blue eyes and also that he said, “Tell your mother she’s next, and then it’s your turn.”

Five years later, no further progress has been made on the Blue-Eyed Killer.  Greg’s wife, Laurie, has done her best to move forward with her life, even with the constant threat made by a murderer hanging over her.  Her father, Leo, took an early retirement from his job on the police force in order to help Laurie take care of Timmy.  Laurie works as a television producer, but her last few ideas haven’t done very well and she knows that her next pitch could be her last.

But it’s a doozy – her idea is to have a sort-of reality show that revisits cold cases.  But instead of just talking about them, she wants to pull together all the main players and reenact some of the scenes.  She wants her main focus to be on cold cases where the witnesses are also the suspects – where the fact that the case is still open means that multiple people are still under suspicion – which is exactly what she wants to title her new show.

Although her boss is at first reluctant, she manages to hook him with a cold case that received a lot of media attention at the time, and soon production for the first episode of Under Suspicion is underway.  Meanwhile, the reader is privy to the fact that Blue Eyes is back on the fringes of Laurie’s life – with definite plans for finishing the job he started five years earlier.

I really enjoyed this series a lot, and gave basically all of these books an easy 4* rating.  It felt a little obvious that Clark didn’t originally intend for the first book to be the first in a series – Laurie’s mystery is neatly wrapped up, she’s given a potential love interest for the future, and things overall get tidied – but it works really well as a series nonetheless, with each book being another episode of Under Suspicion.  Laurie is a really likable protagonist, and the other characters grew on me as well.  I was moderately frustrated with the slow speed of her romance with THE PERFECT GUY, but overall that was also a nice thread running throughout.

It did seem as though the endings were sometimes rushed – I especially felt that way with the first book, where things are tooling along and then suddenly ACTION!  DEATH!  MURDER!  SUICIDE!  CHAOS!  And then the end.  Other than that, though, the pacing was good throughout.  The chapters are SUPER short – some of them only a couple of paragraphs long – which I find incredibly addictive.

A new character is introduced in The Sleeping Beauty Killer, and he really brought down my overall enjoyment of that book and the next.  Ryan ended up being THE most stereotyped character in the whole series…  let’s create a male character who is a caricature of every stereotypical negative male trait ever!  It was so annoying, especially since everyone else grows and changes, but Ryan just stays completely stagnant in order to emphasize how EASY it is for men ALL THE TIME, blah blah blah.

But overall these were great thrillers. They had enough twists to keep things interesting, good premises, likable characters (except Ryan), and decent character development over time (except Ryan).  The most recent was just published last year, so I’m hopeful that there may be another addition to the series at some point.  4/5 for the Under Suspicion series on the whole.

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April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.

Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries // by P.D. James

This was my first foray into the writing of P.D. James.  I’ve seen the Dalgliesh mysteries mentioned here and there around the interwebs, and decided to give them a try.  I ended up reading the first 4 1/2 books in the series, but it just wasn’t for me, so I decided not to finish.  I read:

  • Cover Her Face (1962)
  • A Mind to Murder (1963)
  • Unnatural Causes (1967)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  • The Black Tower (partially) (1975)

Cover Her Face was a 3.5/5 read for me, and a decent, although not riveting, start to the series.  Dalgliesh himself is honestly a very minor player in this book – he doesn’t even appear until page 59, and most of the story is more about the murder victim’s family than it is about the detective.  Virtually everyone in the book was unlikable, even Dalgliesh’s potential love interest.  One of the characters in particular (Stephen) was just flat obnoxious, and I basically dreaded every time he appeared on the page.  Still, the story and mysteries were decent, and I was quite willing to give the next book a go.

I liked the second book a great deal more, and gave it a 4* rating.  While the initial cast of characters was a bit confusing, once I got everyone sorted, the mystery was quite engaging.  The pacing was very good and the red herrings excellent.

Unnatural Causes went a bit off the rails in my mind.  It was an incredibly depressing read, with yet another set of characters out of whom not a single one was pleasant.  Dalgliesh’s role in the entire thing was quite murky (since he was technically on holiday), and it made the whole book feel off-kilter.  James also used what is virtually one of my least-favorite writing techniques of all time: where the main character has a sudden revelation and magically knows everything that happened… but doesn’t let us know until multiple other characters have been told.  And in this case, there was (a) not really any way that I could have arrived (or jumped rather) to the conclusion Dalgliesh did, and (b) the information was obviously just being withheld so there would be this grand revelation in the end.  I don’t mind this  method as much if I’m following a character who’s a bit slow (say, Dr. Hastings in a Poirot tale), or when the author has at least given me ALL the clues so that I could have figured it out if I was clever enough – but neither of those things was true here, so it just felt awkward, with things like, “he explained everything to the detective, who shook his head in disbelief.”  That makes for aggravating, rather than interesting, reading.  And, like I said, the ending honestly felt like a cheat.  I just could NOT grasp how Dalgliesh could have POSSIBLY figured out how the murder was committed.  I had trouble understanding how the murderer thought of it to begin with!  It was absurdly complicated (and honestly rather disturbing, ugh).  All in all, this was a 2* read for me.

Book #4 was somewhat better (3.5/5), but still just weirdly depressing.  There were weird things that I guess were supposed to be red herrings, but ended up just feeling random and never really had a good explanation, like the way that one of the suspects was once engaged to a man who died, and then it turns out that another suspect is that man’s brother… and Suspect #1 had an affair with Suspect #2.  But…  why??  Why was there a connection between them??  I guess this is just supposed to throw me off??  But it seemed very out of character for Suspect #1 so I just felt confused.  In another chapter, one of Dalgliesh’s underlings has sex with one of the witnesses, and then spends the evening dancing with someone else he’s supposed to be questioning, and the entire chapter felt like a bad dream.  And of course, once again, I had to suffer through not getting to know what Dalgliesh knows, for not really any good reason:

“But I think I know how it was done.”  [said Dalgliesh.]

He described his theory.  Sergeant Masterson, cross with himself for having missed the obvious, said:  “Of course.  It must have been done that way.”

“Not must, Sergeant.  It was probably done that way.”

But Sergeant Masterson had seen an objection and voiced it.

Dalgliesh replied:  “But that wouldn’t apply to a woman.  A woman could do it easily.”

Do you see why this annoys me??  It’s not necessarily because I don’t get to know what Dalgliesh is thinking – it’s because there is an entire conversation going on about something that I don’t get to know.  And, for instance, I never find out what Masterson’s objection was, even after I find out what the heck they were talking about!  (Which, by the way, doesn’t happen for at least another hundred pages.)

Still, despite feeling a bit meh about everything so far, I picked up The Black Tower.  And I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t finish it.  I think because James had set up an entirely new cast of characters, all unlikable, all depressing, in a depressing setting, and I just found that I couldn’t face another 300 pages of Dalgliesh moping about his job (because he is a great one for being morose and withdrawn, constantly agonizing over some life decision, always on the verge of a crisis, etc.).  So I stopped.  And I sent the whole batch of books back to the library and moved on with my life.

While these weren’t bad books, they just weren’t for me.  I’m not fond of a dark and dreary brooding hero who is full of introspection.  I don’t like it when I feel like I wouldn’t care if someone came by and poisoned the entire cast of characters.  I hate it when authors withhold information just so their hero can appear even more clever later (even if it makes the writing awkward in the short term).  I don’t like finishing a book and feeling vaguely sad about life.  So while I can see why people enjoy these stories – because the writing is good and the mysteries are decent – I just couldn’t get into them myself.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

Cornish Mysteries // by Carola Dunn

  • Manna from Hades
  • A Colourful Death
  • The Valley of the Shadow

Note: this series also includes Buried in the Country, which I did not read at this time, for reasons that shall be revealed below…

So a while back I read through Dunn’s other cozy mystery series, set in the 1920’s and starring Daisy Dalrymple.  I overall really enjoyed that series, although it had its ups and downs, so I thought that I would give this set of Dunn’s books a go.

//published 2009//

Set in the late 60’s or possibly early 70’s in Cornwall, Eleanor Trewynn (widow) has retired to a small coastal village.  She and her husband worked for many years for a charity organization whose purpose was honestly rather vague but I think somehow involved giving food and shelter to poor people in… places??  (It’s called the London something-or-other, but they travel all over the world, so apparently it’s for lots of other countries as well?)  Since her retirement, Eleanor has been living in the upstairs apartment of a cottage she purchased, and has renovated the downstairs to be a thrift shop whose proceeds benefit this charity.

There were aspects of these books that I liked.  I felt that the setting was done well, and overall the mysteries come together decently.  But there were little things about these books that aggravated me. Usually I enjoy reading a series straight through and really immersing myself in it, but I think these books would have benefited if I had read them spaced apart a bit, as those little aggravations become more annoying with each passing book, and by the time I finished The Valley of the Shadow, I realized I had literally zero interest in picking up Buried in the Country.  Valley was honestly a bit of a struggle for me to get through; I was just so bored while I was reading it.

I really like my current method of reading four books at once and rotating between them, but the disadvantage is that it sometimes takes me longer to realize that I don’t actually like a book, and that’s what happened here.  I enjoyed these books less and less as I went along, but kind of didn’t notice it until I finished Valley.

//published 2010//

So I realize that the things I’m going to complain about are going to sound rather nitpicking and maybe overly-sensitive, but hey, it’s my blog so I can say what I want!

The biggest thing was Eleanor herself.  I started out not exactly liking her but at least not being actively aggravated by her.  She’s kind of a batty old woman, which was definitely at its worst in the first book – I honestly just wanted to shake her at multiple points in time because she’s so vague and rambly and someone has been murdered and yet it felt like she wasn’t even making an effort to remember things or get things straight.  It wasn’t quite as bad in the next two books, but I did get very tired of hearing how bad she is at remembering to lock up (because she’s spent so much time in countries that don’t even have doors, much less locks!  Like how many times do you need to tell me that…???) but how even though she might be vague about some things she has an excellent sense of direction and always can find her way through the rambling lanes of Cornwall.  Blah blah blah.

I also realized that the more I read about Eleanor, the more she came across as just obnoxiously superior.  The biggest place that this came through was in her relationship with her supposed best friend, Jocelyn.  Jocelyn is the vicar’s wife, and also is in charge of the charity shop.  She’s efficient and intelligent, yet Eleanor/Dunn always manage to sound incredibly condescending about her, because Eleanor isn’t religious.  This, of course, makes Eleanor superior because she does charitable things out of the goodness of her heart, while Jocelyn only does them because of duty.  Eleanor has the flexibility to make her own decisions about what is best to do or say at different moments in time, but Jocelyn is bound by duty because of all the annoying religious rules she has to follow, so obviously she can’t listen to gossip even if it may aid the investigation, and she’s going to be super judgy about a pair of strangers living together because her religion has made her so sanctimonious and sheltered that she doesn’t really understand real life like Eleanor, who has traveled the world and seen lots of other cultures and realized that everyone has a legitimate point of view so she’s incredibly open-minded unlike poor, narrow, stick-in-the-mud Jocelyn.

//published 2012//

It just felt like these comparisons happened more and more frequently as the books went on, or maybe I just became more sensitive to them.  I found the constant snide remarks about how Christianity, and religion in general, is only for people who aren’t strong enough to be compassionate on their own.  They are only compassionate because of rules and duty and are also only compassionate to people who fit within their boundaries of rules and duty.  But people like Eleanor are much more enlightened and superior.  Besides being a complete misrepresentation of Christianity, it also got quite old, as a reader, to listen to how clever and kind Eleanor was.

Eleanor, as an aside, also knows a special martial arts that she still practices, and of course this means that she’s basically invincible (in her mind).  On a couple of occasions she even uses “a move” to get out of a bad situation.  While I find this realistic, the concept that she could then continue to fight her antagonist and come out ahead – I’m sorry, an elderly woman vs. a young man, even where elderly woman knows martial arts, is never going to actually end with the elderly woman winning.  The best she can hope for is what she did – to stun/startle her opponent long enough for someone else to step in.  But Eleanor is convinced that she could basically win any fight that comes her way because of her martial arts, and this made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.

The other nagging thing, besides Eleanor herself, was her niece, Megan.  I actually like Megan a lot.  She’s a detective and so is another connection in Eleanor’s involvement in various mysteries.  Of course, this is an earlier time, when women weren’t often on the police force.  For the most part, I felt like Dunn handled this well and didn’t make to big of an issue of it.  Like yes, it’s a thing, but there is more to Megan’s character than that.  But she still managed to bring up things that just felt obnoxious.  Like at once point, Megan is in the car with another officer and something happens and he swears:

Dawson reversed, swearing.  He shot Megan a half-shamefaced, half-defiant look and muttered, “Sorry,” as he backed into a passing niche.

After six years in the police, she still hadn’t worked out how to deal with this situation.  He’d never have apologised for bad language to a male colleague.  On one hand, he was being polite.  On the other, he was treating her differently because she was a woman.  She muttered something indistinguishable even to herself.

Here’s an idea:  just say, “Hey, no worries,” and then move on with your life.  Stick with the part where he’s being polite, accept it for what it is, and move on.  This crops up in multiple places, where men do something that is just simple, basic politeness – like holding a door – and Megan has all this internal angst about how she should respond to this.  SAY THANK YOU AND MOVE ON.  It’s not that hard.  In none of the situations are the men doing it in a way that is condescending or acting like she’s inferior.  It’s just regularly politeness, and Megan consistently acts like it’s this big deal.  None of the other officers act like she’s weak or pathetic or can’t handle the job.  She ranks higher than many of the other characters, and they consistently treat her with the same deference as their other commanding officers.  If she was in a situation where she was really battling against a lot of snide treatment, or if guys were holding doors open with an attitude like they had to do this because she’s too incompetent to handle it herself, I could understand where she’s coming from.  But instead it felt like she was always making a mountain out of a molehill.  The best way to blend in and not make a fuss is by saying thank you and not making a fuss.  Sheesh.

So this is a lot of griping for three books that I just felt incredibly meh about.  I honestly wasn’t full of rage while I was reading them, but I did realize as I went on that I was just really bored of them, bored of the characters, bored of the story, and bored of Eleanor’s superiority.  The mysteries themselves were fine, but didn’t really have any kick, and The Valley of the Shadow especially felt polemic as it was about illegal immigrants, of course comprised of a poor, upstanding, well-educated, hardworking family with small children, because those are the only types of illegal immigrants that show up in literature.  (Not that there aren’t poor, upstanding, well-educated, hardworking families with small children who are illegally immigrating, but they aren’t the only ones or even the majority so.)  In the end, the book felt like a long lecture about open borders instead of an actual mystery.

In the end, 3/5 for the first two books and 2/5 for the third and a pass for the fourth.

A Beautiful Blue Death // The September Society // by Charles Finch

//published 2007//

I remember reading a couple of the books from this series a very long time ago, back when there were only three or four in the series.  It’s one that I have meant to revisit for quite some time, especially since several books have been added to it since then.  However, in the end I reread these two books and found them rather bland, and so have decided not to fuss with the rest of the books after all.

The books center on Charles Lenox, a gentleman in 1860’s London, who works as a private detective.  He’s a rather odd character because he apparently has enough money of private means to just ‘be a gentleman’ but chooses to work as a detective as well.  We don’t meet up with him on his first big case, but are dropped into the middle of his career, seemingly at random.  He lives next door to a widow, Lady Jane, with whom he also grew up.  His older brother, Edward, serves in parliament, which is actually Lenox’s dream job (which makes sense, because he loves rambling on about random stuff all the time).

//published 2008//

The main problem I had with these books was Finch’s tendency to really pontificate about random things.  I don’t mind a bit of background on a character or a few lines of description to help with the setting, but in these books it feels like every time Lenox passes a historical building or London neighborhood, Finch finds it necessary to go on for at least a paragraph, explaining the history and significance of the location, as well as all of Lenox’s personal associations with the spot.  After a while, it really began to feel like it was interfering with the pace of the story.

For instance, in The September Society, Lenox passes through a park:

Green Park, a shamrock-colored rectangle that lay behind the Houses of Parliament, was warm and beautiful that afternoon.  The willow trees bent toward the lake, their lowest branches just brushing the water, and the park’s lone wanderers and couples alike walked more slowly than they had along the fast city blocks, stopping to watch for a while.  Lenox always liked to watch the swans gliding serenely, birds with just the mix of beauty and danger that humans like in wildlife – for a swan, of course, could break a man’s arm.

Okay, a bit prosy but alright.  Except the next paragraph, rather than getting on with the story, continues with the swans!

Another curious fact about them was that every swan in England belonged to Queen Victoria.  Not many people knew it, but poaching swans was an offense the crown could punish.  The official swan keeper to Her Majesty wrangled the birds in the third week of July every year, when they were served at the Queen’s table and a few others across the isles, in Cambridge, Oxford, York, Edinburgh.  The swans were mute, but at their deaths they found voice and sang, and the long line of wranglers always claimed to be haunted by the sound.  It was the origin of the term swan song.

???  Just… this has nothing to do with the story.  And if this was the only instance of this meandering fact-giving it would be find, but it happens multiple times per chapter, and it became very off-putting to me, as it started to feel that Finch felt that it was important to insert all of his research into the story whether it fit or not.  It really, really interfered with the pace of the story.

In A Beautiful Blue Death, I was put off almost immediately when Lenox and his friend, a doctor, determine almost immediately that the murder victim’s death was caused by a very rare poison.  However, we aren’t really told how the doctor arrives at this conclusion.  He just…  knows?  After that, the detective in charge of the investigation decides he doesn’t want Lenox around.  So the whole story feels rather strange, with Lenox sort of meandering around the edges of it.

It just felt like both books lacked any urgency.  Lenox is very dry as a main character, and always felt rather pompous to me, although part of that is definitely Finch’s narration.  However, I will say that my younger brother loved these books, and his favorite part were all the asides and odd facts, so maybe it’s just a reader-preference thing.

All in all, these were solid 3/5 reads for me.  They were fine stories that didn’t feel like a waste of time, but also didn’t really leave me with any desire to complete the series.  With 105 other mystery series on the TBR, I don’t necessarily feel like I need to read ones that don’t really do something for me.