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Continuing my catch-up from 2010, here are a handful of mysteries (all part of a series written for adults, all historical, all with female sleuths – I’m nothing if not predictable).
- The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear (audio): The Maisie Dobbs series has had ups and downs for me, but this one hits all the right marks – an interesting mystery (involving WWI, of course) and some developments in Maisie’s personal life (hurray!) Winspear has an interesting style – very steady and calm, and somewhat repetitive, which makes these work well as audio books. The narrator’s tone is suited to Maisie’s deliberate habits, and there’s never any danger of losing the thread of the story, even if you listen while baking. Definitely start at the beginning of the series, though, to appreciate Maisie’s backstory and development as a character.
- Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn: The Lady Julia books are historical mystery fluff, but I continue to enjoy them (just remember to suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride). I enjoyed the trip to India (and the microcosm of British society) along with Lady Julia.
- A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander: While there are plenty of similarities between this series and the Lady Julia books, I give Alexander credit for creating a more historically likely heroine. In the first book, she had a reasonably gradual transformation into a more iconoclastic character, and by this second book she’d grown on me. I appreciate that Emily wants to flaunt certain of society’s rules, but in the end is still a product of the Victorian era. Recommended for historical mystery fans.
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (audio): In contrast to the measured tones of the Maisie Dobbs audiobooks, Flavia de Luce is another matter entirely, and the audio version has a more snarky, frantic tone. Flavia is as sharp and annoying as ever, yet somehow still endearing. My only complaint about the whole thing is that these are not the type of mystery where you’re constantly guessing and re-guessing how it will turn out. Apparently I prefer that kind of mystery to one where you’re along for the ride but not particularly invested in how the mystery will resolve itself. Recommended for fans of the first book.
rating: 4 of 5 stars
Despite the terrible cover, this book is just as engaging – and just as much of a fun page-turner – as the first two books in the series (Silent In The Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary). This one has a new location, the Yorkshire moors (and of course there’s a tip of the hat to the Bronte sisters), and is chock-full of buried family secrets and tense relationships. There’s also some Egyptology mixed in, which of course brings Peabody and Emerson to mind – and although they have some things in common with that illustrious fictional couple, Lady Julia and Brisbane are different enough to not feel derivative. I also appreciate that each book in the series feels unique in terms of setting and plot, and the drawn-out relationship between the characters has more in common with Vicky and John (Street of the Five Moons, etc.) than the Emersons. Hopefully more installments will follow, but just enough of the loose ends are tied up to make the wait bearable.
rating: 4 of 5 stars
The perfect thing to devour on a sick day. I barely got off the couch, completely diverted by this entertaining blend of historical fiction, mystery, great characters, and snappy dialogue. It’s nothing too serious, but the writing has none of those terrible, annoying flaws often found in fluffier books. The characters were all fascinating, there was some great (and completely unresolved) sexual tension, fun descriptions of clothes – and I was really more interested in all of that than in the mystery itself. The mystery is certainly entertaining, even though I managed to guess the murderer (even with diminished brain function), but of course there are all sorts of smaller mysteries that must be solved on the way to the main event, and these were a bit trickier to guess at. If I’d had the second book on hand, I would’ve picked it up and started it immediately. Definitely recommended – it would make great airplane reading, or work any time you want to be “excessively diverted” without thinking too hard.
PS – this came recommended by Leila at Bookshelves of Doom, and she has a much more entertaining review than I do. I have to agree with her point about Julia being one of those “familiar raised-in-unusual-family-situation-therefore-less-inclined-to-worry-about-social-conventions-of-the-time female characters,” which are EVERYWHERE in historical fiction, but since this is not a book that asks to be taken too seriously, I can forgive it this indulgence.