Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Talk: Reviews of Recently-Read Mysteries

I have long been a devoted fan of mysteries. From my very first Encyclopedia Brown books through my tween/teen obsession with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and then into adulthood with the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Anne Perry, Victoria Thompson, and now Kate Carlisle, I just can't get enough of a good mystery.

And of course this love of the "whodunnit" has transferred to my TV viewing as well: all of the CSI variations, all three NCIS shows, Castle, Hawaii 5-0, Rizzoli and Isles, Criminal Minds, Bones, Elementary, and last season's favorite, Forever, plus the British shows Sherlock and Rosemary and Thyme and my Australian fave, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

So yes, mysteries are my thing. Thus, here are my thoughts on the mysteries I've read and reviewed recently on Goodreads, some definitely better than others....

The Remains of the DeadThe Remains of the Dead by Wendy Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly good mystery series. I grabbed the first two books in the series about a Seattle woman named Sadie who started her own crime clean-up service after the suicide of her brother. After discovering her brother's body two weeks after his suicide, and having to clean up what was left of his remains, Sadie starts the bio-cleaning service so that other bereaved families do not have to do what she had to do: clean up the blood, bone fragments, decomp, etc. of their family members.

But after Sadie starts this business, she discovers that she can both see and hear the dead. Helping the dead to cross over is a rewarding sideline to her business although her one employee, Zach, one of the few who knows her secret "gift," tries to not consider her crazy as she often speaks to what seems like thin air. It doesn't help that she also has a crush on Zach, a very handsome former cop who developed a drug addiction after being injured on the job.

So the first book in the series was decent--not terribly exciting but intriguing. I'm almost finished reading the second book in the series as well.

Devil May RideDevil May Ride by Wendy Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Ghost Dusters Mystery series I've read, and I doubt I'll read more. They're okay, but I'm not particularly enamored of the characters, the plots, and the gross details of bio-cleaning crime scenes.

The paranormal aspects along with a fairly good mystery and a decent vein of humor make this series enjoyable enough, but not stellar. I mean, if there was nothing else for me to read, I wouldn't mind. But that's not enough for me to seek out the rest of the series. I happened to pick these two up as a reading friend at the library turned them in, and she said that they were decent. And they were.

But I think I'm done. After I finish up Anne Perry's The Angel Court Affair, I'll probably return to my Pride and Prejudice variations as I continue writing my own Austenish tale....

The Angel Court AffairThe Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, The Angel Court Affair is not one of the most exciting stories in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series by Anne Perry. In fact, this book is the first one in the entire series of thirty-some books that I didn't gobble up in fewer than 48 hours; I had to renew it from the library for another three weeks in order to finish reading it.

I'm not sure why I felt that The Angel Court Affair wasn't as intriguing as the rest of the series...probably because I've been missing Charlotte too much in these last few books. In the vast majority of this series, Charlotte was able to assist Thomas with his cases, often navigating the upper-crust victims and suspects far beyond Pitt's social reach but not above Charlotte's (even though she married "down"). For the past few books, Charlotte's been barely on the periphery, and I miss her caustic sense of humor, love for her family, and intrepid fearlessness. With her husband as the head of Special Branch, she is by necessity excluded from his work, and every case could end his career with an abruptness that would cause the whole family's heads to spin. At least Pitt's former boss, Victor Narraway, is still available for consults, especially since he retired and has married Aunt Vespasia, the Pitts' "aunt" more by affinity than by marriage through Charlotte's sister, Emily, who has also assisted with many a case in the past.

So I miss Charlotte and Emily's intrusion into Pitt's cases, and although the new "girl" serving the Pitts is nice enough, she's no Gracie who also assisted in Pitt's cases before marrying Pitt's former sergeant. Although this series was never humorous, the "shine" of this series is missing--the heart of the series, I guess. It's as if everyone grew up and moved out of the neighborhood. And that absence leaves a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth.

I'm not sure what will happen in the next Pitt mystery, but I hope it's an improvement over this one.

Ripped From the PagesRipped From the Pages by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful mystery (the 9th!) in Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile Mystery series, Ripped from the Pages takes place in Dharma, a commune-like town in Sonoma's wine country. Brooklyn Wainwright, a restorer and binder of antiquarian books, comes across--yes--another dead body. Her boyfriend, hunky British former MI-6 agent, Derek Stone, joins Brooklyn while their San Francisco apartment is being remodeled, and they settle down to early harvest time. An expansion of a wine storage cave yields a secret room full of pre-World War II treasure...and a dead body. The mystery is afoot!

I just love this series of mysteries, partly because I am addicted to books (the older, the better!), and partly because I love a good mystery, and partly because I adore quirky characters.... And Kate Carlisle has come up with quite the assortment of quirk in Dharma (where Brooklyn and her numerous siblings grew up)... everyone from Brooklyn's mother who is the "Grand Raven Mistress of her local druidic coven" to the founder of Dharma, affectionately nicknamed "Guru Bob" by Brooklyn and the other young people who grew up in this artsy little village (which seems to have more than its share of homicides).

Antiquarian books, a good mystery, and quirkiness to the nth degree...what isn't there to love in this ninth installment of the Bibliophile Mysteries? (Except having to wait for the tenth installment in June 2016, of course...especially after the final sentence of this book!)

(Write quickly, Kate!)

This last one is more ghost story than mystery, but I wanted to include it here....

The Tiny Steps: A Ghost Story From The Tiny Staircase SeriesThe Tiny Steps: A Ghost Story From The Tiny Staircase Series by David J. Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story was of great interest to me as I not only attended Point Loma Nazarene University as a student, but I also taught there as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Literature, Journalism, and Modern Languages.

As a freshman living on campus before marrying my husband, I worked on the yearbook staff and experienced some spooky stuff happening one night when we were working late on a deadline for the sports section. Our office was upstairs in Cabrillo Hall...which I found out later was supposedly haunted. The building had been the home of Madame Tingley, the leader of a Theosophist colony on the peninsula of Point Loma, not far from downtown San Diego, in the early 1900's. Cabrillo Hall and the administration building, Mieras Hall, were both original to the Theosophist society.

Thus, this ghost story, expertly revealed detail by detail by David Schmidt, a far more recent student of PLNU, was gripping, especially as it was interspersed with the history of Madame Tingley and the Theosophists. Mr. Schmidt separates fact from fiction as he slowly rolls out the story of the experiences of a campus security guard he interviewed after Cabrillo Hall was relocated as part of the refurbishing of the campus for PLNU's centennial in 2002. (The university had started as Pasadena College in 1902 and moved to its present location, the former Cal Western campus, in 1972/3.) Cabrillo Hall was a music building when I was a student; after its move across campus in the wake of building a new student commons and music building with a performance hall, it became classrooms on the main floor (our daughter Elizabeth had her German class in Cabrillo) and staff offices on the second floor. The basement, which had been used for storage when I was a student, has been converted to studios for art students.

I won't retell the bizarre experiences of the unnamed security guard, but this short story would be a perfect story to read aloud at a spooky mountain camp out, a beach bonfire, a Halloween get-together, or a freshman prank. ;) The perfect mixture of superb story-telling and historical background, The Tiny Steps deserves a place in the lore of PLNU...and will also be enjoyed by those who have no connection to the campus at all.

Happy reading, everyone!


Nancy Dorsett said...

I was thrilled to read your post as I am a mystery lover too. Heading straight to the County Library website to reserve several of the highly-rated titles. :-)
Nancy Dorsett

Susanne Barrett said...

Enjoy, Nancy!! :)

The Bibliophile mysteries by Kate Carlisle are lovely, and of course my favorites are the Lord Peter series by Dorothy Sayers which are now being continued by Jill Paton Walsh. :)

Susanne :)


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