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

Lindsay Jayne Ashford: The Woman on the Orient Express

The Woman on the Orient Express - CoverTitle: The Woman on the Orient Express
Author: Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

RatingE

He said that once I’d produced a child, my job would be over. It wouldn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl – as long as there was a baby. That was another condition of his inheriting the earldom, apparently.

This isn’t how this works. This isn’t how any of this works. Earls can’t choose who inherits their title. It will always be the oldest (I think there might be an exception if he has committed high-treason but that is not the case here). Of course, if the author had just spent one more paragraph on this and explained that only some money is entailed to the title and dad threatens to leave his unentailed fortune to somebody else it would have been fine. The son would have worried about ending up a title and a grand mansion he can’t afford the upkeep to. The plot would have still worked in our world and not only in some alternate reality Choose Your Own Earl-England. (It still would have raised the question why granddad would have been fine with a girl who couldn’t inherit the title but you can’t have everything).

But then this is only a tiny part of the book. It mainly is about three women. The three women who all have problems caused by romantic relationships with men: Agatha just got divorced and has body-image/general self-confidence issues brought on by her ex-husband’s abusive behaviour. Nancy discovered very shortly after her marriage that her husband has no interest in her and now she’s pregnant by somebody else. Katharine blames herself for her first husband’s suicide and is now afraid of what will happen if her second husband makes the same discovery her first husband did.

There is nothing wrong with a plot that focusses on these issues. After all, it is set in the 1920 – a time where a woman who didn’t have a husband had a much harder time. And I have yelled enough about historical novels that feature too-modern characters so I’m not saying they all should have said ‘Well fuck men’ but I do wish that we had gotten one main character with a problem caused by something else. No ultra-modern ‘I want to change the world and women’s place in it’-views required, simply a character who’s worried about a sibling or a parent. Just anything else.

And I wish even more that these problems – and them finding out about each other’s problems – hadn’t been presented in such a soap-operific manner but at the end of most chapters, you could almost see the Dramatic Zoom In™ on the Shocked Face™

Dramatic Zoom in from Weissensee
With apologies to Jörg Hartmann who is a better actor than the camera-work in Weissensee makes you believe

We also get a Dramatic Reveal brought on by a poisonous snake, a character who watches another character give a third one a massage, they then immediately assume the others were having sex and rushes off  (and at first tries to block off any attempts at explanations from Character #2)  as well as a character who throws themselves on their knees and buries their head in their hands before revealing their Tragic Past™. Not to mention all the single tears that are cried in this book…really, it’s a wonder the desert, where most of the book takes place in, didn’t turn into an ocean from so many of them.

And to top it all off, at the end, the character who had the most atypical life for a woman at the time suddenly gets some very typical feminine things and it turns out: deep down she wanted them all along and only now is truly happy. Of course.

Disgusted Luise Kinseher as Bavaria


Card: Crime Scene - The Orient Express from the Kill Your Darlings-game

This is also read for the Kill Your Darlings game (Crime Scene: Orient Express, where it actually checks all the boxes: the characters travel, it’s set in the 1920s and it has a train on the cover)

Ray Celestin: The Axeman’s Jazz

20727758Title: The Axeman’s Jazz
Author: Ray Celestin
Series: City Blues Quartet #1

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him…

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret – and if he doesn’t find himself on the right track fast – it could be exposed…

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca finds himself working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as the authorities’.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency.Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her trumpet-playing friend, Lewis ‘Louis’ Armstrong, to the case and into terrible danger…

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city…

Rating:E

Note: I read the German translation of this book. The German review can be found on my Goodreads account

The Axeman of New Orleans is a fascinating unsolved murder case that offers much room for speculation (there is just one suspect and it’s not entirely certain if he really existed) and an appropriately creepy letter that was sent to the newspaper. The sender claims to be the Axeman and says he won’t kill anybody the following Tuesday provided there’s Jazz playing in their house. There are no murders that night but they continue later, only to stop again completely a few months later. This is a story that cries out for a novel and I was excited to see how the author would work this case in his story.

The answer is: not at all, really. The book starts with the murders of  Joseph and Catherine Maggio and we learn that they aren’t the first victims. There were others before them that were also killed with an ax. Tarot cards were left at every crime-scene and the Maggios had much more money in their home than you would expect from a couple of simple grocers.

In reality, the Maggios were the Axeman’s first victims. There were no Tarot cards and also no money. That fact-resistance continues: the non-deadly attack on Anna Schneider turns into a deadly attack on her and her husband. Joseph Romano suddenly has a wife and was murdered before the Maggios…these aren’t just small artistic licenses that one needs to take if they want to turn fact into exciting fiction. Instead, it makes me wonder why the author didn’t just invent a completely fictitious case if all he keeps are some names and the murder weapon.

The reason might be the Axeman’s letter. Celestine is so fond of it that it is printed twice in full length in the book. Or perhaps ‘Axeman’ on the cover is supposed to take in true crime-obsessed idiots like me.

Now even if you ignore that the author rather drags the name of people through the mud who were slaughtered less than 100 years ago (because in the book, none of the victims were innocent) than to simply make up a serial killer named The Butcher of Baton Rouge:

The book is bad.

None of the characters has any depth. They all come from completely different worlds (a corrupt Italian cop, a clean Irish one, Lewis Armstrong – yes, that one – his light-skinned mixed-race female friend and an opium-addicted journalist) but there’s barely any difference between them on-page. They stumble around, smoke, ask questions, smoke more, get beaten up, intimidated and locked up (by criminal masterminds that the whole underworld fears but who forget that there is still a set of hunting knives in the room they just locked them in), smoke even more and show no personality at all.

More than once I had to leaf back to check who the POV-character of the current chapter is. Everything sounds the same and even the long Jazz night reads as exciting and colourful as watching white paint dry. Additionally, in the first half, the plot gets constantly interrupted by flashbacks to things that happened to the characters before the start of the book. There were so frequent that I began wondering if the author wouldn’t have preferred to tell that story instead. Then, towards the end, there are some twists that are only surprising if you’ve never been in the same room with a crime-novel.

German ARC received from NetGalley

 

Lynn Brittney: Murder In Belgravia

37481550Title: Murder In Belgravia: A secret group of detectives solving crime in the seedy underbelly of World War 1 London
Author: Lynn Brittney
Series: Mayfair 100 #1

Set against the backdrop of WW1, Mayfair 100 is the telephone number for a small specially-formed crimebusting team based in a house in Mayfair. London, 1915. Just 10 months into the First World War, the City is flooded with women taking over the work vacated by men in the Armed Services. Chief Inspector Peter Beech, a young man invalided out of the war in one of the first battles, is faced with investigating the murder of an aristocrat and the man’s wife, a key witness and suspect, will only speak to a woman about the unpleasant details of the case. After persuading the Chief Commissioner to allow him to set up a clandestine team to deal with such situations, Beech puts together a small motley crew of well-educated women and professional policemen. As Beech, Victoria, Caroline, Rigsby, and Tollman investigate the murder, they delve into the seedier parts of WWI London, taking them from criminal gangs to brothels and underground drug rings supplying heroin to the upper classes. Will the Mayfair 100 team solve the murder? And if they do, will they be allowed to continue working as a team?

RatingE

Grimdark cozy-mysteries are apparently a thing now. Often cozies are rather clean: the victim wasn’t a good person anyway. The only bad things that ever happened were because of the victim (and possibly the killer). Once the murderer is caught everything is fine again. Or at the very least the (well-adjusted) sleuth has figured out the perfect way to help the person who is still suffering. (To be clear: I don’t mind that. We all need a bit of escapism now and then and many people, myself included, find that in cozies.)

There are cozies that try to break that mold. They use a set-up that is more a cozy than ‘serious’ crime novel but don’t shy away from the fact that there are issues like addiction or racism, you can’t solve in 300 pages. Some are rather subtle about it and/or don’t want to go too deep into it (and while I frequently proclaim my love for the Lady Daisy mysteries, I do wish in a 20+ book series there’d been more than one gay couple and 3 or 4 POC-characters. Though the way she deals with the fallout and consequences of WWI is done very well).

This book has no such qualms. The set-up, with an unofficial team with one-half cops one-half amateurs, is something you’d expect in a cozy. But two of the protagonists are veterans who were seriously injured in the war. The story itself involves sexual assault, PTSD, addiction, pedophilia, and prostitution. Oh and the whole book is set during World War One, and halfway through the story, London is bombed. I had almost forgotten about that, which tells you all about the impact it had on me. But sentences like “Billy explained all about the damage, the dead bodies, the smoke, fire, explosions and general horror he had experienced.” don’t evoke many emotions in me. But throughout the book, the prose is like this: bland, unemotional and no character has a distinct voice.
And even if that wasn’t an issue: the book crams all these horrors into it and features some characters that suffered terribly but they find the perfect solution for all of them. And they all lived happily ever after. I just can’t buy this after tons of misery were piled on them.

And because all this isn’t enough, the book reads like it was written by an author who thinks her readers are really stupid. There is no other reason why the most obvious facts are explained at length and why information is repeated over and over again. Like when one character discovers something and then instead of a simple ‘And then he told X what he discovered that morning’ we get half a page of ‘And then he told X about event A, discovery B, and event C’. Despite the fact that we just read about A, B and C in the previous chapter.
On another occasion, two characters visit a lawyer because they wish to see a document. The lawyer, being a lawyer is reluctant at first but can be convinced that this would be in his client’s interest. Still, he is aware that he shouldn’t really be doing this so he asks one of the characters to leave the room with him to look at a painting. Anybody who has ever consumed any form of fiction now knows what is happening there. The book feels the need to explain to us that “she was being asked to leave the room with Sir Arnold on a pretext so that Beech could look at the documents on the desk.”

Something else? Oh, right the premise of this book is an unofficial police team with women (before they were allowed in the police-force) that deals with cases where e.g. a witness doesn’t want to talk with a man. For that, the men in it were often pretty sexist. And of course, those were different times and having heroes with suspiciously modern views is not the best solution. But neither is not doing anything. The men are happy because women have their “curves in all the right places” or because “being a bodyguard and making arrests appealed to his strong sense of masculinity” and have questionable views on women’s rights, votes for women etc. and all this goes unchallenged. At no point had the characters a serious discussion about this. At no point did I have the impression that the author weighed in on it. She just wrote down what the men said and thought.

ARC received from NetGalley

The Phoenix Born (A Dance of Dragons #3)

Title: The Phoenix Born
Author Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #3

For the first time in a thousand years, the fire dragon has been awakened and Rhen is its rider. But after destroying the armies that threatened the city of Rayfort, Rhen is shown a vision in flames that changes everything. The shadow’s phantom armies are coming and the dragons are the only things that might stop them.

High in the castle at the top of the Gates, Jinji has learned something of her own. Janu, her long lost twin, is alive. And just as the spirit shares her body, the shadow shares his. In the blink of an eye, her quest for vengeance against the evil that killed her family has changed to one of protection. Because she knows that if Rhen learns the truth he will do what she cannot—end the shadow, and end her brother in the process.

As the shadow grows more aggressive, Jinji and Rhen fight to find the rest of the dragon riders. But with time running out, they are forced to face the impossible decision between honor and love. Alliances are formed, promises are broken, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance…

Rating: E-

They learned how each other moved, how they flew, how they fought. But most of all they bonded, formed a friendship.
Don’t bore me with details on the character- and relationship development. That might actually give them some depth and make them interesting and who would want that?
At the beginning of the book, Jinji uses her magic powers to rebuild a city that had been destroyed in a battle and heal the people that were injured during the attack. She spends almost a day doing that before she collapses. But not because using magic is physically exhausting, but because seeing so many dead and injured people takes an emotional toll on her. Fortunately, trauma can be healed by a hug from your boyfriend so she can go on to use some magic to convince the different sides in the battle to stop fighting each other and fight the Shadow instead.
All of this happens in the first three or four chapters and makes it very clear that the characters won’t need to worry about any of the things most other fantasy protagonists do. Somebody doesn’t believe them? There’s a person with essential god-like powers who can impress them till they change their opinions. A serious injury? That can be solved with little more than a snap of the fingers? No food? Same. The only thing Junji can’t do is teleport but then the other’s have dragons that can cover huge distances in minutes. (That, or the whole book takes place in an area roughly the size of Liechtenstein). Frankly, that makes for some very boring reading.
Of course, there is still the Big Bad of the series but what makes fantasy exciting is that the protagonists have to deal with a lot of stuff besides fighting the Big Bad. Here, the only other things that are going on are Jinji and Rhen’s relationship “problems”. In quotation marks, because they can be summed up with ‘You lied to me about something major. But when I think about it for a few paragraphs I can understand why you did that. Now I have betrayed you but you also forgave me after a few pages. And it’s not like either of our betrayals had any real consequences (except the deaths of a few thousand people but let’s ignore that since we did not know any of them).’ So these parts are also really boring. Which results in an exceptionally boring book.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of the series so far:

 

The Silver Key (A Dance of Dragons #1.5)

25727975Title: The Silver Key
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #1.5

Weeks have passed since King Razzaq discovered Princess Leena’s affair and banished her lover from the kingdom. So when Mikza suddenly appears in the golden palace, chained and bound, Leena is floored. Even more mysterious is the man he travels with—a redheaded prince of Whylkin.

Unable to control her curiosity, Leena follows the strange convoy, hiding in the shadows as they meet with her father. But what she witnesses will the change the course of her life, and the world, forever.

Taking place parallel to the events in THE SHADOW SOUL, read Leena’s side of the story as she teams up with Jinji to save Rhen’s life and seeks to escape her father’s hold once and for all.

Rating: E

What do you think the men fighting these battles would want? To live, knowing they helped my father destroy thousands of lives? Or to die at the hands of something greater?

Well, I would guess they would want to make that choice for themselves instead of a sad, spoiled princess making it for them but what do I know? After all, they are just peasants. And non-noble characters are just there for the canon-fodder (and to make Leena feel a bit bad on occasions). Noble men are just there to remind us constantly that this society treats women horribly. As in ‘let’s take the worst of every really existing society and mix in some bad dystopias’-horribly. Which is a) annoying because come on. This is fantasy. You can make up everything and come up with women being utterly worthless? and b)

Because this society is clearly based on a middle-eastern/Arab one and in the previous book we saw the white guys treat their women better (still not equal but definitely better) and I’m just saying the author should have thought more about their world-building.

Now when it comes to noble women: we only see Leena. Who invented feminism. And who is still the only one who sees something wrong with this society. Other women are just too vapid and silly for that. At least that’s what I assume since no other women is even mentioned (except Tragically Dead Mom(TM)). Leena has no friends, isn’t close to her sisters…nothing.

Ugh.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5 in the series
Review of book 1 in the series