In April, I had decided to get back to some of the mystery series that I’ve started over the past few years but never followed up on. A number of them arrived at my library in May, so I continued my “revisitations”.
SOME DANGER INVOLVED by Will Thomas (Mystery Fiction, Victorian England)
In 2010 I won, and read, The Limehouse Text, the third in this series by Will Thomas, featuring Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn. I knew then I’d found a series worth following up. Set in 1884 London, the characters are clearly modeled on Holmes and Watson, but are still original enough (and much more likeable!) to be entertaining.
In this first of the series, Thomas laments:
If I could change any aspect of work as an enquiry agent, it would be the danger, but then, Barker warned me on that very first day, right there in the advertisement.
ASSISTANT to prominent enquiry agent.
Typing and shorthand required. Some dan-
ger involved in performance of duties. Sal-
ary commensurate with ability. 7 Craig’s
Some Danger Involved contains a solid mystery, an adventure in the Jewish section of Victorian London, and some danger for the reader: that of becoming hooked on this series.
Read this if: you enjoy Sherlock Holmes pastiches – this is a particularly good one. 4½ stars
THE RELUCTANT DETECTIVE by Finley Martin (Detective Fiction, Atlantic Canadian author)
From the beach near our home on Nova Scotia’s North Shore, on a clear night we can see the lights of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I wouldn’t want to live on PEI but it’s a great place to visit and, after all, part of this “Atlantic Canada” that is now my home.
When she loses her job in Ontario, Anne Brown, a single mother moves back “home” to PEI at her uncle’s invitation, along with her 14-year-old daughter. His hook? “Pay’s not great, but nobody starves on PEI. And there’s no rat race like in Ontario.” Amen to that.
Anne’s uncle runs a Private Investigation service and takes her on as his office manager, but after six years of working together he dies of a heart attack, leaving the business to Anne. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief a little, but isn’t that what detective fiction is about – suspending disbelief?
There’s a solid, if not greatly innovative, mystery and some slightly bizarre loose ends. But I’d read more if this becomes a series, simply for the Island references.
Read this if: you enjoy private investigator novels; or you are interested in seeing P.E.I. beyond Green Gables. 3½ stars plus ½ for the Atlantic Canada connection = 4 stars
THE STRANGE FATE OF KITTY EASTON (Mystery Fiction, 1920s England)
This is the highly anticipated sequel to The Return of Captain John Emmett which was a great success in 2011. WWI veteran Lawrence Bertram returns in his role of a gentleman in reduced circumstances and accepts an invitation of an old friend to spend some time at his country estate. Once there, he learns that several years before, six-year-old Kitty Easton, heiress of the house, had disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
I greatly enjoyed the setting, and very much like Lawrence, but I found the mystery meandered just a little much. I’m undecided as to whether I’d read a sequel.
Read this if: you enjoy the 1920s English country house setting. 3½ stars
A MAN LAY DEAD by Ngaio Marsh (Vintage Mystery Fiction, 1930s England)
Somehow, as I was growing up and cutting teeth on Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, I missed knowing about New Zealand writer Ngaio Marsh. I love how the Web has made the world so small! I started to read Marsh with Death of a Fool in January of this year. I was intrigued enough to start at the beginning and find this first in the series (1934) featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn.
I must confess that, although I remember enjoying reading this, I cannot remember a single thing about it except that there were a number of upper class, foolish people (I think it was this book) and that Inspector Alleyn is a fascinating man.
Alleyn produced from his pocket his inevitable and rather insignificant Woolworth note-book.
“Meet my brain,” he said, “without it I’m done.”
No doubt, today it would be an iGadget but since I still use a paper notebook, I’m glad he “lived” when he did. I’m going to continue reading this series.
Read this if: you want to start reading at the beginning of Marsh’s writing career, and make an introduction to Roderick Alleyn. 3½ stars
HORNSWOGGLED by Donis Casey (Mystery Fiction, cozy)
I so enjoyed the first in this series, The Old Buzzard Had it Coming, when I read it in 2010. There was a clever mystery, and Alifair Tucker seemed a down-to-earth and intelligent protagonist.
It’s awful how long it takes me to get back to a series that I want to continue. But in this case, I should have postponed it indefinitely. The mystery wasn’t at all fairly clued and the body was moved surreptitiously so many times by so many different people that the book reminded me of the period English farces I watched at the Shaw Festival decades ago. Only the book wasn’t funny.
Points for the period setting (1912 Oklahoma) and dealing with thorny family issues.
Read this if: you’re determined to read everything in this series; or you’d enjoy the Oklahoma setting enough to overcome the plot flaws. 2½ stars
WINGS OF FIRE** by Charles Todd (Mystery Fiction, 1920s England)
In 2010, I also greatly enjoyed Charles Todd’s first Ian Rutledge mystery, A Test of Wills. I was excited to find a new series set in a period that fascinates me (WWI and shortly after) and to root for the protagonist, who suffers from shell-shock.
This entry, Wings of Fire, was agonizing to read and I would have dumped it early on but that the title satisfied a reading challenge category. There was a not-quite mystery of a murder-suicide, but it wasn’t enough to fill a book. The same material was presented over and over, in different ways, and then in the same ways, until I was ready to scream on several occasions. The only content remark I made for myself was to note the meaning of ordure. Go ahead: look it up.
I know this series is highly acclaimed, and I know that first sequels are often weak, so I may try another. I’d really love a series with the promise that first book had.
Read this if: honestly – don’t bother. 1 star
* Wings of Fire fulfilled the “word Fire or equivalent” category Beth Fish Reads’ What’s In a Name 2013 Reading Challenge.