Freeman Wills Crofts – The Hog’s Back Mystery

Author: Freeman Wills Crofts
Title: The Hog’s Back Mystery
Series: Inspector French #10

Dr James Earle and his wife live in comfortable seclusion near the Hog’s Back, a ridge in the North Downs in the beautiful Surrey countryside. When Dr Earle disappears from his cottage, Inspector French is called in to investigate. At first he suspects a simple domestic intrigue – and begins to uncover a web of romantic entanglements beneath the couple’s peaceful rural life.
The case soon takes a more complex turn. Other people vanish mysteriously, one of Dr Earle’s house guests among them. What is the explanation for the disappearances? If the missing people have been murdered, what can be the motive? This fiendishly complicated puzzle is one that only Inspector French can solve.

This mystery starts like so many at a country house gathering but it’s one that leads only to a disappearance. Which of course means there are more possibilities as to what could have happened. Is it really only a disappearance or is the body just very well hidden? And if the person really disappeared was it voluntarily or not? And anyway why and how? Now, I did go into this with the expectation that this wasn’t so genre-breaking that it would turn out no crime had been committed at all but that still left enough possibilities to have some fun guessing. Admittedly, a seasoned mystery-reader will probably be able to make a good guess as to the motive but that still leaves enough questions about the how (and who exactly) to guess at. I definitely had fun trying to figure those out. However, towards the end, the book drags a bit. Because French has also figured out the why and needs the who and the how and so…he keeps repeating the same information over and over again. X can’t have done it because he has an alibi. Y has no alibi but also no motive…and when he finally has figured it out he only tells his colleagues and not the reader so there’s another chapter where they only talk about what a genius French is for figuring it out without giving away anything. By that point, I was very impatient and slightly annoyed. But not so much that it made me dislike the book. It was still a fun read.

Aster Glenn Gray – Honeytrap

Author: Aster Glenn Gray
Title: Honeytrap

At the height of the Cold War, a Soviet and an American agent fall in love.

Soviet agent Gennady Matskevich is thrilled when he’s assigned to work with American FBI agent Daniel Hawthorne. There’s just one catch: Gennady’s abusive boss wants him to honeytrap his American partner. Gennady doesn’t want to seduce his new American friend for blackmail purposes… but nonetheless, he can’t stop thinking about kissing Daniel.

FBI agent Daniel Hawthorne is delighted to get to know an agent from the mysterious Soviet Union… and determined not to repeat his past mistake of becoming romantically involved with a coworker. But soon, Daniel finds himself falling for Gennady. Can their love survive their countries’ enmity?

This book was not what I expected from the blurb. I picked it up because I thought it would be a mystery/spy thriller (+ romance) and this was…not that. Gennady and Daniel are assigned to investigate a very amateurish assassination attempt on Khrushchev together. Since they’re only decent clue is a scrap from a somewhat obscure magazine they go on a road trip to visit all the subscribers but the story is far more interested in the road trip (during which they experience pretty much every romance trope you can think of…yes they do huddle for warmth in Only One Bed) than the interviews…we only get to see two or three…which is why the case ends up being solved not by them but almost accidentally by the local police. They get back to tie everything up, their working relationship ends, Gennady goes back to the Soviet Union, there’s a time jump to the 1970s when he ends up back in the USA, more romance tropes happen, back to Moscow, another time jump the 90s where they meet again and…well this is a romance novel.

To be perfectly honest: if I had known about this I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I spent a lot of time during the twee road trip scenes going “Ok but when are you going to do some actual investigating?”. So, no, I’m not the target audience for this book in the first place…however now that I’m here I will also complain about a things that have nothing to do with the fact that this book wasn’t the genre I had expected. Like the fact that this book drowns in romance tropes…now I do love cheesy romance tropes myself but…they have to make sense in context…fit in the story. This books seems on occasions like the author went through a checklist; bedsharing? Check! Christmas together? Check! Major hurt and comfort moment? Check! But it resulted in each scene feeling generic. As if you could swap the order around because there was nothing in it that anchored it at that point in their relationship. (Generally it often felt less like reading about a developing relationship and more like they jumped from one milestone to the next…which can partly blamed on the time jumps but the first part took over half the book there could have been some).

And then there’s…well it’s one thing but it was also so much more than just a minor flaw: One of them gets stabbed at one point and…refuses to go to the hospital for reasons that really make zero sense in context so the other decides to drive him to the FBI headquarter to inform their boss that Dude #1 got stabbed. Because this is the 1950s. Telephones weren’t invented yet. So #2 drives #1 who must be happily bleeding over the whole car because the stab wound has received zero care. He then continues to bleed on the FBI carpet and boss also suggests the hospital but no. So #2 makes a suggestion…

You might want to sit down for this

I have a first aid kit in my car…you know the car I just drove you in. Let’s drive to our motel so that you can bleed a bit more in my car and then I can bandage you up there in the motel…with that kit I have currently in my possession and had already when you were stabbed.

Do you feel my pain?

AND THE STUPID IS NOT OVER YET. Because the caring for the wound involves #1 biting on a belt to stop himself from screaming as if he was a soldier getting his leg sawn off without anaesthetics instead of an agent getting his wound disenfected.

Do you feel my pain?

Do you think that was all?

No, because on the next day #2 gives aspirin and then takes him clothes shopping so #1 can move his body full of a blood-thinner a lot while having a wound that has only been bandaged and not stitched.

Look, I happily accept some leaps of logic to get a good hurt/comfort scene. But it’s not a good scene if I keep wondering how he hasn’t bled to death, yet.

Marshall Ryan Maresca – The Velocity of Revolution

Title: The Velocity of Revolution
Author: Marshall Ryan Maresca

Ziaparr: a city being rebuilt after years of mechanized and magical warfare, the capital of a ravaged nation on the verge of renewal and self-rule. But unrest foments as undercaste cycle gangs raid supply trucks, agitate the populace and vandalize the city. A revolution is brewing in the slums and shantytowns against the occupying government, led by a voice on the radio, connected through forbidden magic.

Wenthi Tungét, a talented cycle rider and a loyal officer in the city patrol, is assigned to infiltrate the cycle gangs. For his mission against the insurgents, Wenthi must use their magic, connecting his mind to Nália, a recently captured rebel, using her knowledge to find his way into the heart of the rebellion.

Wenthi’s skill on a cycle makes him valuable to the resistance cell he joins, but he discovers that the magic enhances with speed. Every ride intensifies his connection, drawing him closer to the gang he must betray, and strengthens Nália’s presence as she haunts his mind.

Wenthi is torn between justice and duty, and the wrong choice will light a spark in a city on the verge of combustion

While reading this book, I assumed this was the first in a series. Because there was no way all these problems could be solved easily (or quickly). It is set in a (Mexican or more general Central-American inspired) place which has been colonized and where the (white) colonisers have built up a strict caste-system. The less indigenous blood you have and the whiter you are, the easier your life will be. People with mostly indigenous heritage live in slums and struggle to survive, leaving them with not much energy to fight this status quo. Meanwhile, the colonisers and those light-skinned enough to live comfortably enough have obviously no reason to change it. So getting rid of the dark lord isn’t going to do much because legislative, executive and judiciary are filled with people who never went hungry under him and so won’t see any reason to change anything.

Of course, I didn’t expect to get one book about the revolution and then one about drafting new laws and parliamentary debates (because that would have a very niche market) but I did expect more acknowledgement that it’s still going to take time and effort to make things better again. As it was, over two-thirds of the book were really hammering home the “there’s no single dark lord who is responsible for all our misery” message only to take a sharp U-turn at the last moment and go “but if we press this magical switch it’s going to be all fine” and then veer slightly to the right and mumble “there’s still some vague unspecified stuff to do but really not much”. Now the magical switch felt a bit odd at first and I do wish there had been some more time to set it up but overall it did fit in the story. But I really would have wanted a slightly more open end. As it is, it tied things up far too quickly for me and seemed too rushed.

ARC received from NetGalley