Friday, May 26, 2023

RIP Anne Perry 1938-2023

Historical mystery writer and Master of Crime Anne Perry recently died. 

I have been reading her stuff for years.  She’s written a lot of books in the Victorian Thomas Pitt (52!) and William Monk (24)! police procedurals as well as several other series and Christmas novellas. Her work is dark with unseen forces underpinning Victorian society. Intricately plotted and well-set, the characters are a bit wooden but still engaging. 

Recently I  have been reading her early 20th century Daniel Pitt (son of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt) and World War II era Elena Standish series. Both series are richly drawn page-turners. I just started the latest Daniel Pitt, The Fourth Enemy.

It had seemed she was writing books almost faster than I could read them. Now I’m sad there will not be any more books.

After the release of the 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures, it was revealed that  under her birth name Julia Hulme, Perry was convicted of murder as a teenager in New Zealand and served a prison sentence.Such  an experience must have shaped her writing although she didn’t write about it as far as I know. In recent years she moved to L.A. from her home in Scotland. RIP

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Reading Series # 2

 Rereading C.S. Harris’ dark but fun Sebastian St. Cyr series with 18 books so far:

What Angels Fear

When Gods Die

Why Mermaids Sing

Where Serpents Sleep

What Remains of Heaven

Where Shadows Dance

When Maidens Mourn

What Darkness Brings.

And just finished  #9 Why Kings Confess

#10 is on hold

It’s comparable to Andrea Penrose ‘s series- both are good but different. The St. Cyr Series is darker, less wry and less sciency. Both have strong female protagonists and slow burn romance.  Sebastian St. Cyr is a tortured but clever nobleman and former soldier with a moral center. His eventual wife/partner Hero nee Jarvis is a radical journalist and reformer impeccably well-dressed and daughter of the most powerful man in England  C.S. Harris is a historian and this shows.  Both series explore the dark underpinnings of regency  society and are meticulously well researched with rich backgrounds and settings.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Helen MacInnes' Above Suspicion

I just finished rereading the late Helen MacInnes' first novel, Above Suspicion, published in 1941 and strangely resonant in these modern unsettled times. In my youth, I was very partial to spy novels and read most of MacInnes and other writers of the genre. I remember liking hers for the strength of her female characters and enjoying the detailed depictions of Germany and Austria. I  still read spy novels in addition to mysteries. For example, I've read and re-read Len Deighton's terrific Berlin novels with Bernie Sampson, stuff by Alan Furst, most of Le Carre, and stuff like Francine Mathews' recent Jack 1939, that also deals with the same fraught eve of World War II period as Above Suspicion, with a twist. 

An Oxford professor and his pretty wife, Richard and Frances Myles, planning a mountain  climbing holiday in the summer of 1939, are asked by a an agent of the British Secret Service, one of their friends, to see about a missing agent somewhere in Europe.  While nonchalantly climbing mountains with just wool socks and good hiking shoes (I found this as amazing as the spying), they also put their fluent German and quick wits to good use. The story is really suspenseful as the Myleses are increasingly endangered as they follow a trail of agents through France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. Along the way, they convince an American newsman, who had planned to be neutral, and a fellow brit., an Oxford acquaintance, that war with the heinous Nazis is unavoidable. MacInnes paints a fascinating and ominous picture of a changed Europe bowing under the increasing weight of the Nazi fist.

The book was made into a Hollywood movie in 1943 with Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray where the Myleses are on their honeymoon and Americans. I don't remember seeing it but I am going to seek it out.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Archaeology Detectives

The Body in the Mound
John Bedell

Archaeology and mysteries have a strong affinity. Both are concerned with clues, solving puzzles based on limited facts, and getting at the truth. Archaeology usually lacks the pure and definitive satisfaction of the mystery novel ending. Despite, or perhaps  because, of this there have been a lot of archaeology mysteries.

Beginning with Agatha Christie classics like Murder in Mesopotamia, They Came to Bagdad, Man in the Brown Suit, Death Comes as the End and others. Christie was actually married to an archaeologist, Max Mallowan, and spent many years helping him with his digs. Supposedly Murder in Mesopotamia is based  on one of the digs they went on together, including a veiled description of the high strung wife of the head of the excavation and famous archaeologist, Leonard Woolley.

Recently there's been lots of  others: Elizabeth Peters' fabulous Amelia Peabody 19th century Egyptology mysteries,  Lyn Hamilton's Lara McClintoch, Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series, Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan, and the list goes on. There are a lot. Check out: Digging Death. for a list of a bunch of well known ones. I've read a lot of these. Some are very, very good. Some authors just do not understanding how archaeology works and it shows. Archaeology is collaborative, a group activity, not the work of a single genius, no matter how polymath he might be (Indy!).

Recently I've been reading about the work of acclaimed archaeologists like Sarah Wisseman of the University of Illinois, who writes mysteries. John Bedell, who is also a noted professional archaeologist working in the Middle Atlantic region published his first mystery, The Body in the Mound via Amazon e-books. It came to my attention  last spring and I had to get a copy (e-book) of it immediately. As sometimes happens, I could not put it down and read it in about a day but it has taken me some time to write about it.  I really enjoyed it. This story   falls into the category of accidental detective since the character is pulled into the case by circumstance.

Bedell's hard living and hard digging archaeologist Jack Gordon is running an archaeological survey for a gas pipeline near small Pennsylvania  town called Renovo in Clinton County. The survey is looking for archaeological sites in the path of the pipeline.This is, of course, one kind of work that many archaeologists do to pay the bills and to find cool sites and record them before they are destroyed by  construction. Jack profitably runs his own company (possibly the most fantastic part of the story). 

He is asked by the police to look at a murder victim found in a 2,000 year old  but looted Indian burial mound. The mound is of a type called Adena based on a culture centered in Ohio, who buried their dead with rich and unusual artifacts like copper beads, tubular pipes, exotic stone points, and other items. The body is completely modern but its presence in an ancient mound is unexplained. (Honestly, who hasn't thought of hiding a body in a burial mound?)

Jack doesn't understand what is going on but he needs to find out in a hurry as he  is threatened, shot at, and accused of being the murderer.  What ensues is a pretty gritty (literally) struggle to find the truth and the missing artifacts before he ends up in jail or dead. There's lots of local (Renovo) color and locals. This is a fast moving novel and a lot of fun to read. Local archaeologists can read it without worry! John Bedell does know what he's talking about and it holds up pretty well.   

Jack 1939

Francine Mathews
Jack 1939

As the author of  the Jane Austen mysteries (under the pseudonym Stephanie Barron), I am a huge fan of Francine Mathews. Her Jane Austen mysteries are dead on - using letters, known biography, dialogue from her novels and filling in the blanks left by all that is not known in a most entertaining way.

I also really, really liked her two non-Jane historical mysteries, Flaw in the Blood, which is about Queen Victoria, and The White Garden, about Virginia Woolf's suicide. Both are terrific fun, well researched. Because of Flaw I read up on Queen Victoria, actually an amazing woman;  check out Cecil Woodham-Smith's superb Queen Victoria biography.

So I knew that Ms. Mathews really does her research. Jack 1939 is full of unexpected historical facts and surmises about Jack Kennedy and his pre-war European travels. This includes Kennedy family color - stuff about sisters Kathleen and Rosemary, Bobby, Rose, the whole clan. In this sex-tinged spy thriller, future president Jack Kennedy, then a college student, is a spy for Roosevelt and in opposition to his own father, who some would suggest was a Nazi sympathizer before the war.  Young and sickly but incredibly attractive to all sorts of women, married as well as Radcliffe virgins, Jack fights Nazis funding out critical information about Nazi war plans. Really sympathetic to Kennedy, less so to his parents. A really fun read.

Note: this summer and fall, my mystery reading fell off a bit. I read all 5 books of the Game of Thrones series - anxiously waiting for the 6th! Will be catching up with some reviews in the coming days and weeks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Big dog...

Hound of the Baskervilles

This seemed like an episode from the X-files. Dark rooms, foggy moors, frightened client - is he all he seems to be? Big scary dog, CIA plots, illicit drugs. The meaning of "hound." Sherlock admitting his own insecurities, his feelings (of friendship) for Watson. a bit of a mess, really. At least everyone kept his or her clothes on.

I've read and seen so much new Holmes in and out of canon, really got to get back to Conan. Doyle that is...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Series reads

Just re-read the first in C.S. Harris' Regency St. Cyr mysteries, What Angels Fear. Holds up great! I really enjoy these, And reading the 2nd in the Flavia de Luce series, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag. And the latest in the Charles Todd Ian Rutledge series, A Lonely Death Three different Emglands ... Plus Sherlock and Game of Thrones...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wild Things

So sad about Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are was a book I loved to read to my daughter when she was small. And I know what it is to give up being king of all the wild things to go back to the place where someone loves me best of all.