Published November 30, 2007
The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly. Maybe it was the setting (Crete in 1926) or the prevailing subject matter (archeology) or maybe I’ve been reading so many books in succession that I need to slow down and savor each one, but I found this first mystery featuring Laetitia Talbot to be another disappointing tale. Soon after Talbot’s arrival in Crete to serve under renowned archaeologist Theodore Russell, Russell’s young, second wife, Phoebe, is discovered hanging from a beam in her bedroom. Several promising suspects are nearby including the jealous, aging husband, the golden boy stepson, Phoebe’s personal doctor, and more than one Cretan native.
My biggest problem with the book is succinctly described by the main character herself when she says, “Her death turns all this poking about among the dry bones of the past into an irrelevance, don’t you think?” I heartily agree, but the author still spent vast sections of the book at the dig site rather than moving the murder plot forward. This was too bad because the murder plot itself was pretty good with some nice twists to it. I did very much enjoy the character of Inspector Kosta Mariani and wish that the series would follow his path rather than Talbot’s, especially since it’s his intelligence and dedication to thorough investigation that leads to a solution of the case.
Cleverly wrote some wonderful books in her Joe Sandilands series that were set in India and I highly recommend those, but the last one, Tug of War, based in France and this first entry in the new series are not as entertaining.
I have decided to take a break from mysteries and will attack David Michaelis’ dark biography of Charles Schulz next.
Published November 29, 2007
Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking at job notices. I especially like the ones at mediabistro. Sometimes, I just look at the names of the media companies and to try to guess what topic they cover, because sometimes they can get too creative for their own good. Another source for titles is Resource Shelf’s occasional Virtual Magazine / Serial Newsstand. See how well you do at this mix and match game. Answers are below, so be careful scrolling down.
1. Dime Magazine A. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community
2. BowTie Inc. B. pets and animals
3. The Knot C. lifestyle magazines with a business/finance bent
4. RainToday.com D. parenting and family life
5. Kaboose Inc. E. wedding resource
6. Grist F. Boston’s bi-weekly guide to entertainment and culture
7. Doubledown Media G. basketball
8. The Daily Galaxy H. news on science, space exploration, technology in pop culture.
9. PlanetOut I. insight & advice on marketing and selling professional services
10. The Improper Bostonian J. environmental news and issues
Answers: 1-G, 2-B, 3-E, 4-I, 5-D, 6-J, 7-C, 8-H, 9-A, 10-F
Published November 28, 2007
Since I get all my books through my excellent public library, I don’t often visit bookstore websites. But any store that has a potbellied pig as its mascot deserves at least a mention. Clues Unlimited in Tuscon, AZ has four separate lists devoted to historical mysteries, though their definition of the genre is a bit broad, so you may find some historical fiction here as well. Their best list covers what’s new and forthcoming in the genre and is updated every other month. It includes reissues and paperback editions as well as new titles. The font may be a bit hard on the eyes, but I liked that they put their staff-recommended titles in red. The short synopses often don’t include date or location information. They assume that users are familiar enough with these books that such information is unnecessary, not an outlandish assumption perhaps given the specialty nature of their business. This service is a welcome addition to the updates provided by Hurt and Malo.
The undated list of book series set in the medieval time period includes the first title in each series and a brief description of the primary character and setting, but doesn’t seem to have been updated recently. The two lists for historicals set in Great Britain and the United States respectively were both written in 2001, are arranged chronologically by era, then roughly alphabetically by author and include first titles in each series and brief descriptions as well.
Similar to the public library advisory lists, if you know a bookstore doing an exceptional job with historical mysteries, please let me know.
Published November 27, 2007
Island of Exiles by I.J. Parker. Parker’s principal player, Sugawara Akitada, is a minor government official in 11th century Japan and one of the more complex characters around. He’s an arrogant and adulterous bureaucrat and his by-the-book rigidity causes unnecessary hardships for his family and retainers. He’s not the best judge of character, especially with women, and he makes many mistakes and careless errors in his investigation of the exiled Crown Prince Okisada’s death on the penal island of Sado. However, he can also be kind and generous and he inspires others to act nobly. He’s courageous and able to endure severe punishments. And, in the end, it’s his agile mind and talent with swordplay that brings the villains to justice.
This novel, the fifth in the Akitada series, reads much like a five act play. In Act 1, the prince dies, the suspects are introduced and our hero is given his assignment. In Act 2, Akitada arrives in disguise on the island and his character traits, both good and bad, are revealed when he becomes involved with events surrounding his hosts. In Act 3, he travels the island gathering evidence, but his mistakes eventually lead to his capture. In Act 4, his loyal lieutenant, Tora, comes to the island in search of his master. Because Akitada chooses to solve this mystery on his own, readers unfortunately see very little of the supporting characters who were more prominent in previous stories: his wife, Tamako, his secretary, Seimei and until this point, Tora. In the final act, Akitada escapes and after a final confrontation with his enemies, all is revealed.
It is a strange set of coincidences that both Parker and Laura Joh Rowland almost simultaneously released entries of their respective series set in ancient Japan, that both had their principal characters travel to distant islands to solve cases leaving many recurring characters out of the stories, and that both mention the Ezo (modern Ainu) tribe of northern Japan. After reading both, I prefer Parker’s conspiracy tale to Rowland’s mystical adventure.
Published November 26, 2007
A medieval quadrant: the homepage of Renee Vink. Dutch author Renee Vink has yet another database of historical mystery authors with almost 1,100 titles. Most titles listed are in English, but there are over 100 each in German and French as well. Vink emphasis is on Antiquity and the Middle Ages so the list is very comprehensive for settings prior to 1800 and less so for settings after 1850. The main database is arranged by author and includes fields for title, language, publication year, location and a period code (1 – Antiquity, 2 – Middle Ages, etc.). The letter “J” is used for juvenile books. There is a second database that is a subset of the main and includes only stories set in the Medieval period. It is broken down by language first, then by author and includes more detailed information on the time period and subject matter of each title.
Using a period code instead of the actual year is a weakness, but not a major one. More troublesome is that the site has not been updated since December 2004, so many titles and authors are not included and the “Recent and Forthcoming Titles” page is obsolete. This database should be used as a supplement to Hurt’s (my review), Malo’s and Feder’s (reviews still to come).
Published November 23, 2007
Why Mermaids Sing by C.S. Harris. Someone appears to be murdering, mutilating, and then publicly displaying the sons of English aristocrats in the early days of the Regency in 1811. Queen Square magistrate Henry Lovejoy calls upon Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, heir of the Earl of Hendon, to assist on the case by using his puzzle-solving prowess and his considerable physical abilities. When the victims’ fathers insist that Sebastian stop investigating and when two more related deaths are discovered, Lovejoy and St. Cyr agree that some secret that the families want kept unrevealed must be driving the killer to extract such brutal revenge. To say more would spoil the many wonderful twists in the plot.
The pacing in the novel is at thoroughbred speed and the London setting is well-portrayed. The subplot involving actress Kat Boleyn, Sebastian’s lover, and the devious Lord Jarvis, the power behind the Prince Regent’s throne, is an edgy addition to the story rather than a distraction. The recurring supporting characters of the young servant Tom, the Irish doctor Paul Gibson and the cold, domineering Earl are used judiciously to enhance readers’ understanding of St. Cyr’s past and his character. I highly recommend this third volume of the St. Cyr series as well as the previous two, What Angels Fear and When Gods Die.
Published November 22, 2007
Just a short post as I’m off to Thanksgiving dinner. I hope everyone has a great holiday.
The Mystery Reader site, edited by Denver librarian Dede Anderson, contains lots of reviews of all types of mysteries. I really like its five-star rating system and its violence ratings as well. For historical mystery readers, this is a site best used when you have a title or author already in mind and are just looking for a review. Navigation is awkward, some of the features pages haven’t been updated in years and the search tool is mediocre at best. There is an author index for the archived reviews, but no subject index. The reviews themselves are quite detailed and the biographies of the contributors indicate a high level of expertise. I won’t be adding this site as a resource to the blogroll, but will consider using it to evaluate newly discovered authors.