Anna Lee Huber: Treacherous Is the Night

Cover: Treacherous Is the NightTitle: Treacherous Is the Night
Author: Anna Lee Huber
Series: Verity Kent #2

It’s not that Verity Kent doesn’t sympathize with those eager to make contact with lost loved ones. After all, she once believed herself a war widow. But now that she’s discovered Sidney is very much alive, Verity is having enough trouble connecting with her estranged husband, never mind the dead. Still, at a friend’s behest, Verity attends a séance, where she encounters the man who still looms between her and Sidney—and a medium who channels a woman Verity once worked with in the Secret Service. Refusing to believe her former fellow spy is dead, Verity is determined to uncover the source of the spiritualist’s top secret revelation.

Then the medium is murdered—and Verity’s investigation is suddenly thwarted. Even Secret Service agents she once trusted turn their backs on her. Undaunted, Verity heads to war-torn Belgium, with Sidney by her side. But as they draw ever closer to the danger, Verity wonders if she’s about to learn the true meaning of till death do us part . . .

Rating: E

My thoughts while reading the book of this National Bestselling Author:

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Verity and her husband have a slightly awkward conversation. Immediately afterwards the narration spends to pages on explaining how her relationship has changed because of what they saw in the war and what happened after the war. That their relationship will never be the same as it was before. That they both still have to work through all those issues but that both have problems opening up to the other because they feel they don’t really know the other person anymore.

When Verity’s friend asks her to accompany her to the seance and that she hopes to contact her brother we are told in great detail how close that friend and her brother were, how hard it was for her when he fell and a detailed run-down of the friend’s other family members (and friends) and why it would be a bad idea when they accompanied her.

This happens again and again. And when we aren’t told what the characters feel, we get plain infodumps about the war, Verity’s work in the secret service, Belgian architecture and a lot of other things we don’t need to know in that much detail.

All this already made me almost quit the book a few chapters in because while I understand that sometimes an author just has to dump some stuff on the reader unceremoniously (especially in a case like this where they want the reader to be able to start reading a series at any point without getting confused by vague allusions to past events) this was just too much. But the mystery was quite intriguing so I read on.

That was a bad idea.

Because it quickly turned out that Verity’s husband is a horrible human being.

You see, Sidney wasn’t just missing presumed dead and turned up again. He deliberately faked his own death to draw out some traitors. Verity though he was dead for 15 months before he appeared again and demanded her help in his plot.

Verity now has some issues. They had a whirlwind romance anyway and quickly after they married he went to war so they didn’t really get to know each other. Then he died and she grieved for him (FOR 15 MONTHS) and then he just pops up again. And he is a different man now because war changes people. It has also changed Verity and now they are essentially a married couple that barely know each other. And that is somehow Verity’s fault as far as Sidney is concerned. When Verity is reluctant to share her own experiences he is all hurt. He shouts at his wife, who he let believe he was dead for 15 months because she can’t bring herself to share intimate details with him.

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After one of these confrontations she points out the whole You-made-me-think-you-were-dead thing and he yells “So this is all my fault?”

Yes, Sidney. It is. It might have been unavoidable to fake your own death. It might have even been unavoidable to not tell her in advance because the grief had to be genuine. But you could have considered telling her quicker than those 15 months. And if that wasn’t possible then you have to fucking deal with it. Deal with the fact that you can’t pick up exactly where you left off.

But of course, Verity doesn’t tell him that. She assures him that it isn’t his fault. (Which I guess means it is her fault. Stupid womenfolk).

That placates him until he finds out that she slept with another man. While she thought he was dead, grieved for him and was probably not exactly emotionally stable. But of course, Sidney is angry that after learning he was dead, his wife did not lock herself in, had no contact with anybody and just dealt with her grief just by sobbing uncontrollably.

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When they encounter Verity’s one-night-stand again Sidney punches him. Because that’s an emotionally mature reaction and doesn’t at all suggest that he will again react with violence when he doesn’t like something.

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But men getting violent because of something you did is so romantic, right?

But despite all that, they reconcile and have sex. And after that, he asks “I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t take precautions?” Because hey! It’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission!

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In all that it felt like the mystery was just a backdrop to Verity’s and Sidney’s relationship issues (which I felt weren’t handled well…as you can probably tell). It wasn’t bad (yes there were some convenient coincidences but that’s the case in most mysteries) but it would have needed to be fleshed more out in some parts to work really well. But that space was needed to convince us what a great guy Sidney is…

ARC provided by NetGalley

Alan Melville: Weekend at Thrackley

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Jim Henderson is one of six guests summoned by the mysterious Edwin Carson, a collector of precious stones, to a weekend party at his country house, Thrackley. The house is gloomy and forbidding but the party is warm and hospitable – except for the presence of Jacobson, the sinister butler. The other guests are wealthy people draped in jewels; Jim cannot imagine why he belongs in such company.

After a weekend of adventure – with attempted robbery and a vanishing guest – secrets come to light and Jim unravels a mystery from his past.

Rating: D

“If it weren’t for the fact that we were just starting lunch, I should kill you quite cheerfully, Brampton.”
“Well, we are just starting lunch, so that’s quite out of the question,” said Lady Stone.

Weekend at Thrackley isn’t a whodunit; that is clear from very early on. And not just because the person in question gets described as sinister-looking and ugly as soon as he appears. We also know that he is the bad guy because there are chapters from his POV.

In the first of those he is standing in his evil lair.
That is filled with the jewels he has stolen.
And that has an elaborate hiding/locking mechanism that means only he himself or people he wants to enter can get in.
And from which he can listen to everything that is going on every room in the house because he had microphones installed there.

Dear Reader, this is a very silly book. But not in the charming over-the-top way Edgar Wallace movies are. Or Farjeon’s Seven Dead. Apart from a handful of genuinly witty pieces of dialogue it’s quite stupid and dull. The plot relies mostly on coincidences: the hero just happens to be at the right place at the right time to overhear the right thing/stumble over the right thing/find the hidden microphone in his room.

Meanwhile, the villain just happens to overhear the right things and the right time as well. Mind you his elaborate surveillance machinery doesn’t include recording devices so he just jumps from one room to the next, listening in and hears just the thing that stops the book from being over after 100 pages.

It’s just too much. The coincidences don’t just make things harder or easier for the characters. All major developments in the story just happen because of ridiculous coincidences.

Part of that can certainly be blamed on the fact that the story is meant to be somewhat humorous/a parody. There is the already mentioned witty banter and there are funny scenes: before the hero leaves, his landlady tells him to be careful because weekends in the countryside frequently end in murder. And I could deal with a mostly coincidence-driven plot in a full-blown parody but for that the rest isn’t funny enough. There is one character who is an over-the-top caricature but all others – including the hero – are just bland and forgettable. So it’s too dull for a parody and to ridiculous for a good mystery.

TTT: Summer Reading

Since I told you in my last entry that I managed to get sunburnt in Dublin you might have guessed that sun and heat don’t really agree with me. I usually the summer hiding in the cellar and trying to distract me from the heat. So my summer reading list includes books set in icy cold places so that at least my brain can cool down a bit.

Kai Meyer: Frostfeuer1. Kai Meyer – Frostfeuer (Frost Fire)

Unsurprisingly, things get cold in this retelling of The Snow Queen, set in St. Petersburg. Sadly, it hasn’t been translated in English but some of Meyer’s other books have. Including the more sun- and beach appropriate Wave Walkers trilogy which is set in the Carribean.

Ekaterina Sedia - Heart of Iron2. Ekaterina Sedia – Heart of Iron

It’s not always cold in this book but Sasha’s journey on the Trans-Siberian railroad leads her…well…through Siberia. Where it is very cold.

Arnaldur Indriðason: Silence of the grave3. Arnaldur Indriðason – Silence of the grave

While it’s not set in the middle of a deep Icelandic winter, things do get pretty chilly in this crime novel.

Henning Mankell: One Step Behind4. Henning Mankell – One Step Behind

While I could never share the love every crime novel reader seems to have for the whole Wallander series, I think some of the books are great and One Step Behind is brilliant. (And while it’s set in Sweden it takes place over Midsummer so it’s a proper summer-read).

Tommy Krappweis: Das Vorzelt zur Hölle5. Tommy Krappweis – Das Vorzelt zur Hölle

Another book with no English translation but this topic is surprisingly hard. And this one is properly holiday-themed: The author writes about the campaign-holidays of his childhood and how much his parents loved them. He, on the other hand, was less fond of tents and questionable sanitary conditions but had very little input on the choice of holiday destination. That makes it all sound a lot less funny than this book is because I laughed out loud repeatedly while reading this.

Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile6. Agatha Christie – Death on the Nile

And if you are one of those strange people who enjoy hot weather and even want to read about people being in very hot places while you are in a very hot place: here’s a book set in Egypt.

Carola Dunn - To Davy Jones Below7. Carola Dunn – To Davy Jones Below

Just like Poirot, Lady Daisy also can’t go on holidays without falling over a dead body. And that makes for some perfect holiday-reading 😉

Tony Hawks - Round Ireland with a fridge8. Tony Hawks – Round Ireland with a Fridge

In case you’re into unusual holidays, you will enjoy the tale of the man who went round Ireland with a fridge. It’s hilarious.

Foreign Bodies9. Foreign Bodies

Perhaps you want to match your holiday-reading with your destination. In that case, one of the stories in Foreign Bodies might meet your requirements, as it brings you crime-stories from places like Russia, Japan, France, the Netherlands, and Mexico.

K. M. McKinley - The City of Ice10. K. M. McKinley – The City of Ice

And to close things of another icy read. Though only one of the plotlines takes place in the eponymous city (and the characters need quite a while till they get there). Another is about worker’s rights in a place with very average temperatures. (And yet another is about…a BDSM loving god. It’s an odd book but very good).

Dublin

I was in Dublin (and came already back two weeks ago but…well I was busy …or possibly  lazy. Who knows?)

So how was it? Great! I got a sunburn. In Ireland. (Not that it was my first Irish sunburn…and I also managed to get one in Wales and in autumnal Prague so really, my skin isn’t made for sun). Fortunately, Dublin has some great museums in which you can hide from the sun 😉

Well, and bookstores:

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From left to right/top to bottom

  • Poldark novels 2-6
  • British Crime Library Classics: Impossible Crimes
  • Celtic Design patterns for cross stitch/embroidery etc.
  • Lindsy Van Gelder & Pamela Robin Brandt: Are You Two…Together?: Gay and Lesbian Travel Guide to Europe (less actual travel guide and more ‘amusing stories that happened while traveling lesbian’)
  • Robert Thorogood: A Meditation on Murder (it’s either a Death in Paradise tie-in or part of the series the show is based on. The blurb doesn’t make it clear…and I also watched like three DiP episodes so far but it sounded fun)
  • Morses Greatest Mysteries
  • Ursula K. LeGuin: Left Hand of Darkness (I am a fantasy-lover who still hasn’t read LeGuin and really I should change that)
  • Murder at Shandy Hall, a true crime book about Dr. Phillip Cross
  • Robert Webb: How Not to be a boy
  • A Dr. McCoy magnetic bookmark
  • Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from a Not So Dead Language

So, how does the project Conquer the tbr-pile go?

Badly. Very badly. But it had already gone badly before the holidays because I couldn’t resist the ‘SFF from around the world’ collection from Storybundle. I knew I had lost back then, but couldn’t quite bring myself to admit it.

However, when I came home I had a long, hard look at my pile and threw quite a few books from it in the ‘donate to next church sale’-box. I have a tendency to pick up books I feel I should read because they are Important(TM) or Famous(TM) book that Clever People(TM) read. These books then lie on my tbr-pile and stare at me judgingly because I really should read them. I also have a tendency to stick with series/authors far beyond the point I enjoy them. These books then also lie on my tbr-pile and stare at me judgingly because ‘hey, you liked this once!’. I also have great friends who know how much I love to read and give me books. Sometimes they are really on point, sometimes…not so much. These books then also lie on my tbr-pile and stare at me judgingly because ‘think of how disappointed [friend] would be if they knew you still haven’t read it!’.

Well, most of those judgemental stares are now in the donation box. I even managed to throw out more than I got in Dublin, so that is definitely a plus.

But I still decided to officially abandon my ‘For every five books read I get to buy a new one’-project. That is far too much hassle, especially the way I ‘played’. (Wait…was this an audiobook which doesn’t count? When exactly did I buy this aka is it part of my tbr pile or the pile of shame I acquired later?) It wasn’t fun anymore and reading should always be fun.

I still plan to do something about my tbr pile but that way clearly didn’t work.

 

Blood on the tracks

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“Never had I been given a tougher problem to solve, and never had I been so utterly at my wits’ end for a solution.”

A signalman is found dead by a railway tunnel. A man identifies his wife as a victim of murder on the underground. Two passengers mysteriously disappear between stations, leaving behind a dead body.

Trains have been a favourite setting of many crime writers, providing the mobile equivalent of the “locked-room” scenario. Their enclosed carriages with a limited number of suspects lend themselves to seemingly impossible crimes. In an era of cancellations and delays, alibis reliant upon a timely train service no longer ring true, yet the railway detective has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the twenty-first century.

Both train buffs and crime fans will delight in this selection of fifteen railway-themed mysteries, featuring some of the most popular authors of their day alongside less familiar names. This is a collection to beguile even the most wearisome commuter.

Rating: C+

I have to say I love the sentence “In an era of cancellations and delays, alibis reliant upon a timely train service no longer ring true”. Clearly, nobody has been hit harder by the decline of the railways than poor mystery writers who have lost such a great plot-device…

While one might think that ‘railway related mysteries’ limits the type of stories one can include in this book there is some variety. In many cases, they are simply a sub-set of locked-room mysteries: somebody (or something) disappeared from a moving train (but the how is different every time). Sometimes the train provides the murder-method (or the means of masking the murder) and sometimes the train is mere coincidence (The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face opens in a train but the actual crime had been committed somewhere else and was in no way connected to a train or the railway).

Of course, the stories also vary in quality. No matter how popular railway mysteries were, not every writer did his best work in (short) railway fiction. (Sayer’s story is nowhere near as brilliant as her long fiction). My personal preferences also play a role (I’m not a big fan of mysteries told from the POV of the killer. Or of occult detectives).

Continue reading “Blood on the tracks”

E.C.R. Lorac: Fire in the Thatch

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The Second World War is drawing to a close. Nicholas Vaughan, released from the army after an accident, takes refuge in Devon – renting a thatched cottage in the beautiful countryside at Mallory Fitzjohn. Vaughan sets to work farming the land, rearing geese and renovating the cottage. Hard work and rural peace seem to make this a happy bachelor life.

On a nearby farm lives the bored, flirtatious June St Cyres, an exile from London while her husband is a Japanese POW. June’s presence attracts fashionable visitors of dubious character and threatens to spoil Vaughan’s prized seclusion.

When Little Thatch is destroyed in a blaze, all Vaughan’s work goes up in smoke – and Inspector Macdonald is drafted in to uncover a motive for murder.

Rating: B-

It’s no part of my duty to get murdered. From the point of view of detection that’s merely making a mess of it.

In Bats in the Belfry, a lot of people repeat “Detective novels are different from real life” and how a real murder isn’t the fun puzzle mystery novels make it out to be. It comes over as very condescending and didn’t work for me at all. In Fire in the Thatch people also exclaim “this isn’t a detective novel” but they do so as a reaction to one character suggesting that the body that was burned beyond recognition in the fire might not have been the tenant of the thatch. That was in all likelihood also the thought most experienced mystery-readers had. Unrecognisable bodies are always suspicious. But now? Is this really a detective novel that’s not like the other detective novels? Or is it a bluff?

Inspector Macdonald has his own opinion on this question. And a few other ideas about what is and isn’t important in this investigation. Admittedly, he’s rather quick to make these decisions and dismisses some clues for no discernible reason but it is a rather short book (by a very prolific writer). Besides Macdonald’s character makes up for much of this. He’s no genius eccentric or laugh-out-loud funny guy but he has a dry humour that makes for very enjoyable reading.

The setting also adds some unusual elements: not many mysteries are set mid-World War II. And while the location – rural Devon – doesn’t suffer from bombings like London or other big cities, the war has many indirect effects on the people (and the plot), which makes a nice change to many of the murders committed country-houses that are frozen in time and have nearly no connection to the outside world.

ARC received from NetGalley

Top 10 Tuesday: May 29: Bookish Worlds I’d Never Want to Live In

1. Westeros (George R. R. Martin: A Song of Ice and Fire)

This should surprise hardly anybody. Living there increases your chances of dying a slow, horrible, and painful death by about 800%

2. Isles des Zephyrs (Curtis Craddock: The Risen Kingdoms)

Now as far as fantasy-worlds go this one isn’t too horrible. It is, however, also a world of hundreds of islands, floating in space and travel from one place to the other is only possible by airship.
I’m afraid of heights and avoid planes if possible. I would not enjoy my time there at all.

3. The Dherzi Empire (Carol Berg: Rai-Kirah )

The empire is built on slavery. Its whole economy only works because of a shit-ton of slaves. Since very few people aspire to being slaves, they keep invading other countries to take slaves or turn their free subjects into slaves for such slights as ‘standing in the vicinity of someone who had a bad thought about the emperor’. So chances are that I would also end up as one which is not a good prospect.

4. Balaia (James Barclay: The Chronicles of the Raven)

Balaia isn’t like Westeros; full of waring fractions and psychopaths who enjoy skinning people alive, baking them into pies or do other fun things to them. It is, however, haunted by one magical catastrophe that leads to mass casualties after another. So while, unlike Westeros, death might be quick it still would be very likely.

5. Morse’s Oxford (Colin Dexter: Inspector Morse Mysteries)

Have you seen the murder rate there? Especially if you have some connection to the university it is very likely that you will end up dead.

6. Middle Earth (JRR Tolkien: Lord of the Rings)

Yes, I know. Compared to some of the worlds here it looks like Disneyland. Though it’s not like Tolkien shied back from describing war, but if I’m honest that’s not the reason why I put it on this list. The truth is: I think wizards are cool. And if I’d be transported into a fantasy world I want the chance to end up with magical powers myself. And with so few wizards in Middle Earth, the chance would be quite slim.

7. English Country Houses in the 1920s (any golden age mystery).

Much like Inspector Morse’s Oxford: the mortality rate is very very high.

8. The Hundred Kingdoms (KM McKinley: The Gates of the World)

Well, this isn’t exactly bad-bad but still very unpleasant with angry Gods walking around and magical disasters happening frequently.

9. Riva (Andrzej Sapkowski: The Witcher)

I have only read the first two books but from those, I got the impression that this world is full of beings that want to kill/eat/do other unpleasant things to other.

10. Camorr & surroundings (Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora)

Another fantasy world full of powerful people who will do horrible things to you if you piss them off for some reason.