A solemn look back at 2020

Don’t worry…not the whole dumpster fire, just at my reading choices.

What’s the best book you read this year?

I loved The Last Uncharted Sky and both of KJ Charles’ Will Darling books (the second even more than the first) and I can’t pick either of them as absolute favourite.

What’s the worst book you read this year?

JB Lawless – Der Tote in der Bibliothek. There was exactly one good thing about it and that was that I got it from the library and so did not waste any money on it.

Your favourite “classic” you read this year:

*mumbles* I read The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and two Georgette Heyer books (Masquerades and Faro’s Daughter) and considering those classics is probably already a stretch and I wouldn’t say any of those was a favourite. But I guess I enjoyed Masquerades most.

The book that disappointed you:

Well. *awkwardly shuffles around*. You need expectations to be disappointed. And there were two books that were hyped A Lot and that I ended up not enjoying much. There were books I hated much more but I had no expectations for those.

And now I guess I have to name those books…so…I liked neither Red White and Royal Blue nor Boyfriend Material. And now excuse me I have to go into Witness protection now….oh and when I’m at it I can add The Unspoken Name to the list.

The hardest book you read this year (topic or writing style):

Saša Stanišić – When the Soldier repaired the Gramophone. The topic (The war in Yugoslavia) was heavy but it also had a style that made it hard to read more than a few pages at a time.

The funniest book you read this year:

*stares at her 2020 booklist* I laughed a lot at Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes. It was a collection of stand-up pieces from a Comedian I really liked so I expected it to be very funny.

The saddest book you read this year:

Well and then I was sad about the same book because it was a posthumously published collection with many essays by his friends. Otherwise I stayed away from really sad books this year because *gestures broadly at everything*

A book that surprised you:

Aliette de Bodard – Of Dragons Feasts and Murder. I had some mixed experience with my previous attempts with her stuff (one dnf, one fun plot but a bit…wordy for me and one meh) but ended up really enjoying that one.

A(nother) book you read this year you want to recommend (maybe one that you haven’t mentioned yet?):

Maggie Robinson’s Lady Adelaide series. Which…is more than one book. And I read the first one last year but 2 and 3 this year and now I have to wait UNTIL SEPTEMBER for the next one. Anyway I love it and it’s great fun.

An author you discovered this year that you will definitely read again:

I picked up The White Ship by Charles Spencer because it was about The Anarchy and what led up to it, a topic I am interested in since reading my mom’s Brother Cadfael novels, and ended up liking it so much that I picked up his To Catch a King afterwards even though Charles II had never been a topic I cared much about but he just has a way to talk about subjects that just maker me interested in them.

A book that you never want to read again:

I mean…lots. Some of which have already been mentioned but to add a new one: I never want to come anywhere near Bruce Robinson’s 800 page rant that supposedly solves the Jack the Ripper case but really is just him yelling constantly.

Were you part of a reading challenge? Did you meet it?

My Goodreads challenge were 53 books and I read over 70. I also had a list of I think 10 specific books I meant to read this year and only read 6 or 7 of those because ‘gestures broadly at everything’

Are you signed up for any in 2021?

I will do the Goodreads one again and probably set my number a bit higher. Otherwise I’m planning to look for some short-term challenges/bingos because I have by now realised that year-long ones don’t work for me.

The book series you read the most volumes of this year:

Well…there are three series of which I read two books each: KJ Charles’ Will Darling, Maggie Robinson’s Lady Adelaide and Sharon Shinn’s Elemental Magic

Which authors featured most prominently for you in 2020?

And then I also read KJ Charles’ final Magpie Lord book, which brings the number of books by her up to a staggering three and she’s the winner.

The last book you finished this year:

Yesterday Maggie Robinson’s Just Make Believe. I am more than Halfway through Sam Hawke’s Hollow Empire but I probably won’t finish it this year…

The first book you will finish in the new year:

…which means it’s probably going to be the first next. That or Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Guns at Dawn.

The genre you read the most this year:

I think this year there was more fantasy than mystery but I am too lazy to count.

Which books are you most looking forward to reading in 2021?

I am repeating myself but Lady Adelaide #4, Will Darling #3 for books to be published next year. Apart from that I have read three of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s Maradaine novels and now want to read the rest of the series

And finally, make a New Year’s Resolution: How many books do you think you will read in the new year?:

As said…more than 53? I think I might go for 60 or so

Yangsze Choo – The Ghost Bride

Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever. 

Unlike other girls, Li Lan really hates sewing and embroidery. She’s really bad at it. She still wins a needle-threading competition but she informs us that she isn’t quite sure how she did it. I did roll my eyes at that bit but kept going because the rest was intriguing. The atmosphere of 19th century Malaysia was vividly described and the question of why the Lim family is so eager for her and only her to be the ghost bride of their son promised a good mystery. Sadly, the rest of the book didn’t really deliver on that promise.

The plot seemed to follow two maxims: maximum convenience and maximum drama. Li Lan is – very conveniently – always in hearing range of people who share vital information so she can eavesdrop and be led to the next place where she can overhear the next vital piece of information that advances the plot (and sometimes it’s not even that. Sometimes she just stumbles over one piece of information after the other without having to connect any dots). Now to an extent, this is hard to avoid. She isn’t a noisy old spinster in 1920s England who can poke her nose into everything and ask slightly insolent questions. She’s a young (not very well off) woman in a society where that means she hasn’t much freedom. But I simply couldn’t get through such an amount of plot-convenient coincidences without a lot more eye-rolling…

Meanwhile, on those occasions where Liu Lan actually does talk to people, she just believes everything they say. Even when she knows their people have their own agenda, even if those people make no secret about how much they hate her. It’s inconceivable that they would lie to her. Hence many a dramatic freak-out.

But, the absolute death-blow for me was how utterly flat the romance fell for me. This book is not a capital-R Romance; there are two man Li Lan develops feelings for and at the end, she has to make a decision. But many of her decisions are influenced to at least some degree by her feelings for those men. I am fairly sure that the story of the book had played out very differently if she hadn’t had those feelings. And…I didn’t buy any of those feelings. I could sort of buy the first as a crush that somewhat escalated due to some very unusual circumstances but I genuinely had no idea that she had developed any feelings for the second guy until she actually said it and that’s…just not exactly great writing.

Curtis Craddock – The Last Uncharted Sky (Risen Kingdoms #3)

Author: Curtis Craddock
Title: The Last Uncharted Sky
Series: Risen Kingdoms #3

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste. But Isabelle, as a result from a previous attack that tried to subsume her body and soul, suffers from increasingly disturbing and disruptive hallucinations. Disasters are compounded when the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent, and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition.

In a race against time, Isabelle must figure out how to ward off her ailment before it destroys her and reunite with Jean-Claude to seek the fabled treasure as ancient secrets and a royal conspiracy threaten to undo the entire realm.

This book tells us that sometimes everyone does their best and…that’s enough. They haven’t solved every single problem, cured all sicknesses and disposed of all bad people but…the world is a considerably better place than if they’d done nothing. And that is a nice conclusion, especially in times when one might feel a bit hopeless.

But even if it wasn’t for *gestures broadly et everything in the real world* it is great to have a book that finds such a great balance. It builds a realistic world; there are selfish and evil people, poverty, sickness, corruption but it’s not so dark and gritty that you wonder why anyone bothers trying to save this world at all – because there are also good and selfless people, there’s beauty (and people who perhaps aren’t totally good and selfless but who still have a sense of right and wrong). But, as already said, the heroes “winning” doesn’t solve everything. There are still bad guys…but good ones as well. Of course, that’s not a completely unique approach, but I do find that (fantasy) books often still tend either in the dark and gritty or in the fairy-tale ending direction. The Risen Kingdoms books just found the perfect balance for me.

And of course, all the characters I loved in book one and two were still as lovable. And the developing romance was delightful and I’ve read enough romance novels to know what I’m talking about. And – just as importantly – the non-romantic relationships were also amazing. For many of characters friendship was an important motivator…and if they aren’t saving each other they make sarcastic comments at each other which are the best kind of friendships.

The Detection Club – Ask a Policeman

Title: Ask A Policeman
Author: John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy

Lord Comstock is a barbarous newspaper tycoon with enemies in high places. His murder in the study of his country house poses a dilemma for the Home Secretary. In the hours before his death, Lord Comstock’s visitors included the government Chief Whip, an Archbishop, and the Assistant Commissioner for Scotland Yard. Suspicion falls upon them all and threatens the impartiality of any police investigation. Abandoning protocol, the Home Secretary invites four famous detectives to solve the case: Mrs Adela Bradley, Sir John Saumarez, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Mr Roger Sheringham. All are different, all are plausible, all are on their own – and none of them can ask a policeman… 

This is a collaboration of six members of the Detection Club. John Rhode introduces a case – the murder of an unlikeable newspaper editor with several high-profile suspects – and Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley, Helen Simpson’s Sir John, Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter and Anthony Berkleey’s Roger Sheringham all investigate and offer a solution. Milward Kennedy then wraps it all up. Except there’s a little twist: the writers don’t write the chapter about their own detective but someone else’s. So Mitchell writes Sir John, Simpson Mrs Bradley, Sayers Roger Sheringham and Berkeley Lord Peter.

Martin Edwards promises us in the introduction that this leads to a fun mixture of mystery and parody. And the idea is undoubtedly nice but the first problem for me is…that I’ve only read Sayers and Berkley before. I never read anything by Mitchell or Simpson and so I couldn’t enjoy the parody parts of those stories, except occasionally getting the vague feeling of this odd behaviour is probably a riff on one of the character’s quirks. I do know Sheringham (admittedly not that well) but I did find his chapter funny. I know Lord Peter much better and admittedly like him a lot, so perhaps I’m slightly less inclined to enjoy reading about him being mocked but it’s not that I think Peter is too great to be made fun off. Only that Berkeley goes for the very cheap shot (haha, look how posh he is) and that doesn’t carry through a whole story (I guess each one is somewhere between long short story and short novella).

So with the parody falling somewhat flat for me that leaves the mystery and well – a story like this is inevitably going to end up being very constructed. Not that other golden age mysteries aren’t but the whole set-up of this story really ramps it up to 11 and I also wasn’t the biggest fan of that.

In the end, I think that the whole round-robin style mystery is a fun idea but not one that really works for me. Even if everybody had written their own detective it still would have been a really over-the-top constructed mystery and that’s just not my thing.

J. Jefferson Farjeon – Thirteen Guests

Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon
Title: Thirteen Guests

On a fine autumn weekend Lord Aveling hosts a hunting party at his country house, Bragley Court. Among the guests are an actress, a journalist, an artist and a mystery novelist. The unlucky thirteenth is John Foss, injured at the local train station and brought to the house to recuperate – but John is nursing a secret of his own.

Soon events take a sinister turn when a painting is mutilated, a dog stabbed, and a man strangled. Death strikes more than one of the house guests, and the police are called. Detective Inspector Kendall’s skills are tested to the utmost as he tries to uncover the hidden past of everyone at Bragley Court.

Unlike Farjeon’s The Z-Murders (or Seven Dead) which were more pulp than golden age mystery this one is as classic as it gets: There’s a house-party on the estate of Lord Aveling (who’s a stuffy old lord) who lives there with his wife (who’s a woman) and daughter (who’s a woman). Among his guests are a cricketer (who…likes cricket), a journalist (who’s annoying), an artist (who’s even more annoying), a blackmailer (who’s a blackmailer), his wife (who’s an annoying woman), a young widow (who’s a plucky woman), a female crime novelist (who’s the comic relief woman), an actress (who’s a woman), a doctor (who’s a doctor) and a dude who’s only there by chance because he had an accident near the estate and this is the countryside and there’s no other doctor nearby (he’s…a person…I guess).

Of course, then strange things start happening and soon bodies begin to drop and an inspector start to get involved and at the end there’s a solution I did enjoy a lot…only I did not enjoy the way there…or perhaps rather the characters that brought me there. Because at best my feelings about them are neutral and at worst I strongly disliked them. The inspector himself also fell in the just-did-not-care-about-him category. Additionally, the book has what Martin Edwards likes to call ‘romance’ and what I call ‘otherwise unattached people of opposite genders talk occasionally and then decide that they are perfect for each other’. So all in all that doesn’t make for a gripping read.

KJ Charles: The Sugared Game

Author: KJ Charles
Title: The Sugared Game
Series: Will Darling #2

It’s been two months since Will Darling saw Kim Secretan, and he doesn’t expect to see him again. What do a rough and ready soldier-turned-bookseller and a disgraced shady aristocrat have to do with each other anyway?

But when Will encounters a face from the past in a disreputable nightclub, Kim turns up, as shifty, unreliable, and irresistible as ever. And before Will knows it, he’s been dragged back into Kim’s shadowy world of secrets, criminal conspiracies, and underhand dealings.

This time, though, things are underhanded even by Kim standards. This time, the danger is too close to home. And if Will and Kim can’t find common ground against unseen enemies, they risk losing everything.

Sometimes you read a book that you just love. And occasionally these books have sequels which you love even more. The Sugared Game is one of those sequels.

I admit I was a bit annoyed about the relationship at the beginning. While Slippery Creatures left off with Will and Kim in a happy-for-now situation, at the beginning of book two we learn that Kim has ghosted Will for a while now. In turn, Will has given up on Kim – or that what he’s trying to tell himself. Usually, I’m not overly fond of this trope but then it’s not exactly an out-of-character move for Kim. In fact, if we’ve learned anything about him in book one it’s that this is exactly what he would do. And when they eventually pick up their relationship again they neither just ignore the break and continue where they left off, nor start from the beginning again (both things I came across in romances that stretch over multiple books). Instead, they discuss it and have a (somewhat) healthier relationship afterwards.

The mystery itself meanwhile was just brilliant. I already enjoyed the one from Slippery Creatures but had also managed to guess quite a few twists in advance (mostly because I have consumed far more pulp/mystery fiction than is probably healthy and know the tropes and set-pieces very well). I found that much harder this time. The storyline is still very pulpy and full of fiendish villains and betrayals but all is combined in a way that I went “Wow. I did not see that coming” a few times.

And finally, I have to mention the side characters and especially Phoebe. If you’re like me and love pulp mysteries but are also eternally frustrated that in most of them all the women ever do is scream and make the hero’s life harder by getting abducted at inopportune moments you will love her. She’s still feminine (and into feminine pursuits) and she’s not physically strong enough to fight the bad guys but that doesn’t mean she won’t make their lives as hard as possible. She’s everything I ever dreamed of while watching far too many Edgar Wallace movies while growing up.

black and white gif of a woman on the phone. A man's hand touches her from behind and she looks scared

E.C.R. Lorac: Murder in the Mill-Race

Author: E.C.R. Lorac
Title: Murder in the Mill-Race: A Devon Mystery
Series: Robert MacDonald #37

“Never make trouble in the village” is an unspoken law, but it’s a binding law. You may know about your neighbours’ sins and shortcomings, but you must never name them aloud. It’d make trouble, and small societies want to avoid trouble.’
When Dr Raymond Ferens moves to a practice at Milham in the Moor in North Devon, he and his wife are enchanted with the beautiful hilltop village lying so close to moor and sky. At first they see only its charm, but soon they begin to uncover its secrets – envy, hatred and malice. A few months after the Ferens’ arrival, the body of Sister Monica, warden of the local children’s home, is found floating in the mill-race. Chief Inspector Macdonald faces one of his most difficult cases in a village determined not to betray its dark secrets to a stranger.

I really enjoyed this…*mild exclamation of surprise*. After all, I hadn’t been overwhelmed by my previous experiences with Lorac and the first few chapters of the book didn’t make me think that this time would be different. We follow a young couple – Raymond and Anne – who has just moved to Devon because he’s a doctor and wants to take over the practice of the old village doctor who is about to retire. They meet the other inhabitants of the village, including Sister Monica who oversees the local children’s home and we’re immediately informed that they don’t like Sister Monica. They talk to each other about how little they like her. Anne meets Sister Monica again, they have a conversation and while they have this conversation we’re again told how little Anne likes her. After that she talks to her husband again about…you know. It got boring, especially because we only got to see Sister Monica being somewhat annoying but nothing that seemed to justify the level of hatred aimed at her.

Well, unsurprisingly Sister Monica gets killed and the focus shifts from other people talking about how horrible she was to Inspector MacDonald trying to figure out who killed her (and admittedly, discovering that enough people had reason to do so, so Anne’s initial assessment wasn’t exactly wrong). And the investigation is again good and solid crime novel fare, admittedly not terribly exciting but I enjoyed the backdrop of the small Devon village a lot. I have already mentioned that I think Lorac is very good at describing the settings and anchoring the crime story firmly in those and this is no exception. In many mysteries set in small villages, those places are described as really cozy and charming but this one really focusses on the claustrophobia that comes with the everyone knows everyone and everybody’s buisness which I definitely prefer. So, after a slow start, I really enjoyed this one.

ARC received from NetGalley

George Bellairs: The Body in the Dumb River

Author: George Bellairs
Title: The Body in the Dumb River. A Yorkshire Mystery
Series: Chief Inspector Littlejohn #35

A decent, hardworking chap, with not an enemy anywhere. People were surprised that anybody should want to kill Jim.’

But Jim has been found stabbed in the back near Ely, miles from his Yorkshire home. His body, clearly dumped in the usually silent (‘dumb’) river has been discovered before the killer intended – disturbed by a torrential flood in the night.

Roused from a comfortable night’s sleep Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is soon at the scene. With any clues to the culprit’s identity swept away with the surging water, Bellairs’ veteran sleuth boards a train heading north to dredge up the truth about the real Jim Teasdale and to trace the mystery of this unassuming victim’s murder to its source.

The workpeople had returned to their factories and offices and the market was almost deserted now. All the bargains had gone. The man with the cheese and the chickens had sold up and was packing up his belongings and dismantling his stall. Fruit salesmen were altering their prices, chalked up on brown paper bags and stuck among the fruits on the end of a stick. Oranges at 4d. each in the morning were now four a shilling. A man who sold curtains was holding an auction sale. He was drunk already and now and then gave away a length of material for nothing.

Aren’t you fascinated by that paragraph? Isn’t it…thrilling? Especially considering nothing plot-relevant happens on this market. The investigator simply passes it at the end of his workday. And that’s one of the problems of this book; it gets clogged down with so much description of unnecessary details. It’s not enough to say that a character grabbed his coat and left. We’ll read how he got up, walked to his coat, put it on, walked to the door, opened it and went out. It’s extremely boring and there’s no good mystery to distract me from it. The murder victim is a man who turns out to have been leading a double life. He told his family that he was a travelling salesman but actually had a stall on a travelling carnival and lived there with another woman. The investigation quickly focusses on his first family and every single one is a flat caricature whose only aim is to appear as unlikeable as possible. His father-in-law is even described as having “an indescribable odour of evil and corruption around him”. Just so know he even smells evil…

Of course, these kinds of characters aren’t terribly rare in mysteries. Especially horrible family patriarch is a staple in mysteries. But the thing is that these characters usually get murdered in chapter two or three and so you don’t have too much time to think about just how flat this character really is. Sometimes there are books that have the setup “horrible person gets murdered but only halfway through the book” and honestly, I already have a hard time getting through those because I find it exhausting. Here, none of the horrible people get murdered, they just spent all their time being horrible about each other and about the victim. It’s not particularly enjoyable to read about and so the book left me feeling bored and annoyed in turn.

Erica Ruth Neubauer – Murder at the Mena House

Title: Murder at the Mena House
Author: Erica Ruth Neubauer
Series: Jane Wunderly Mysteries #1

Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel—an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows . . .

Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won’t be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie’s best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane’s plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can’t quite figure out . . .

While the Mena House has its share of charming guests, Anna Stainton isn’t one of them. The beautiful socialite makes it clear that she won’t share the spotlight with anyone—especially Jane. But Jane soon becomes the center of attention when she’s the one standing over her unintentional rival’s dead body.

Now, with her innocence at stake in a foreign country, Jane must determine who can be trusted, and who had motive to commit a brutal murder. Between Aunt Millie’s unusual new acquaintances, a smarmy playboy with an off-putting smile, and the enigmatic Mr. Redvers, someone has too many secrets. Can Jane excavate the horrible truth before her future falls to ruin in Cairo . . . and the body count rises like the desert heat?

Jane Wunderly is Not Like The Other Girls. Other girls dress up in ridiculously revealing dresses to impress men like whores. Jane has no interest in men.

Except for Mr. Redvers. I mean he doesn’t even tell her his first name, quite obviously lies to her or at least evades her questions but that doesn’t stop Jane from swooning about him while still insisting that she doesn’t need no men. Can we just stop with that? Either give me a character who says she has no interest in relationships and then sticks to it or one who says “Yeah. I want to marry (again) but I don’t want the first guy my overenthusiastic relatives who all think a woman without a man is worthless throw at me. I want to marry someone I actually care about.” In historicals that would still be unusual enough and would not give us the moral of “Actually, everyone wants a relationship and all those who say they don’t, just haven’t realized it, yet.”

So, no, I wasn’t a fan of the setup of the blossoming romance. Especially since, as mentioned, I saw no reason why she should even trust him…And if possible I was even less a fan of the mystery. I admit I’m already not the biggest fan of “Sleuth starts sleuthing because they/someone close to them is a suspect” but that wasn’t even a particularly well-done variety of that trope. It never feels like the inspector is really serious about his suspicions. He barely plays a part in the novel and the most threatening thing he does is ask her not to leave the hotel for a while. That leaves us with the “Sleuth starts sleuthing because they totally know better than the stupid police” trope, except that you could even argue that it’s not Jane doing the sleuthing but her mouth. Without her agreement. Yes, the phrase “And before I could stop myself I found myself saying X” gets overused in this book. Oh and what she finds herself saying is usually stuff she strictly speaking shouldn’t know and occasionally she does it while being alone with the suspect. Yes, Jane is one of the people you find pictured in the dictionary next to “Too Stupid Too Live”. But she still somehow survives…and solves everything thanks to a string of ridiculous coincidences. Because that what sleuths in bad cozy mysteries always do.

ARC received from NetGalley

J. Jefferson Farjeon – The Z Murders

Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early on a fogbound London morning. He takes refuge in a nearby hotel, along with a disagreeable fellow passenger, who had snored his way through the train journey. But within minutes the other man has snored for the last time – he has been shot dead while sleeping in an armchair.

Temperley has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman, but she flees the scene.

When the police arrive, Detective Inspector James discovers a token at the crime scene: a small piece of enamelled metal. Its colour was crimson, and it was in the shape of the letter Z. Temperley sets off in pursuit of the mysterious woman from the hotel, and finds himself embroiled in a cross-country chase – by train and taxi – on the tail of a sinister serial killer.

I can only suspend my disbelief so far and this book went further. 

Much further.

It’s the story of Richard Temperley who enters the smoking-room of a hotel just when a woman is leaving. He has never met this woman before and they don’t talk. Richard then finds a murdered man in the room and calls the police as any honest citizen would. He also mentions the woman to the police and of course that makes them curious. But Richard decides that the woman can’t have committed the murder because…she’s a woman and also beautiful? And beautiful women can’t commit crimes. Ever. Even when the inspector patiently points out that the police doesn’t necessarily suspect her but is still looking for her because she might have seen something Richard goes basically “I see. You are planning to lock her in the darkest dungeon and throw away the key. YOU MONSTER! And anyway it’s not like I would know where to find her.” and the inspector then shows massive self-restraint by not murdering Richard on the spot.

Then Richard picks up the handbag the mysterious lady lost and that the police conveniently missed, finds her calling card in it and goes to visit her. He meets her there but she is incapable of giving a straightforward answer and really does nothing that makes it seem she is an innocent bystander who knows nothing about the crime. Does Richard care? No. His blood left his brain long ago and is now somewhere else. So when the lady disappears again he decides to look for her himself instead of talk to the police.

To be fair to the book: this isn’t a classic mystery. This is an unashamedly batshit insane pulp thriller with an unashamedly batshit insane finale (which I admit was beautiful). It’s not meant to be realistic, or even vaguely reality-adjacent in the way Christie et al. are. I didn’t expect it to be. I’ve read Farjeon before. Seven Dead features both a shipwreck and a plane-crash. But -well- I can only suspend my disbelief so far and this plot made me overstretch it and I might have injured my eyes from rolling them so much.

Perhaps I could have lived with it if Richard had known the woman before. It still would have been a shallow reason for his actions but “I know this woman and can’t believe she’s a murderer even if she’s acting oddly” is still better than “she’s too pretty to be evil”