Mystery Fiction I have been a Rhys Bowen fan for years and I await each installment of her two current series with eager anticipation. The “Molly Murphy” mysteries feature a capable and enterprising young woman – an Irish immigrant with an unfortunate past – rebuilding her life in early twentieth century New York City. There have been 16 installments in this series, with a new adventure available later this year. It is always nice to have something to anticipate.
The “Royal Spyness” mysteries are set in England between the wars, and feature a young lady who is 35th in line to the throne. Lady Georgiana is dirt poor but rich with connections and usually finds herself performing some favour or another to stay in the good graces of her royal family. In the background, her cousin Edward is courting a certain Mrs. Simpson. There are nine books and counting in this more lighthearted series.
As soon as I heard that Rhys Bowen had a new novel coming out I knew I had to read it. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. This is a World War ll era novel with great characters (and in my opinion Rhys Bowen writes great characters)
Farleigh Place is the stately English manor of Lord Westerham, his wife, and five daughters. England is at war with Germany and half the estate has been commandeered by the British army; meanwhile the family learns to live in more reduced circumstances. Middle daughter Pamela has a position at Bletchley Park, although her family thinks she is doing secretarial work. Another daughter, Margot, is living in Paris and refusing to return home to England. Ben is the son of the village vicar, and Pamela’s childhood friend. (of course he is secretly in love with her) A recent accident has kept him from enlisting but he does undercover work for the government and receives a lot of flack for not doing his part. Another childhood friend – dashing flying ace Jeremy Prescott- has joined the RAF.
One day, as youngest daughter Phoebe is crossing the estate on her pony, she comes across a battered body in soldier’s clothing. He has fallen from the sky due to a failed parachute. This sets off an inquiry with lots of questions and Ben is tasked with discretely finding some answers.
Each daughter has her own story. This is where I always admire Rhys Bowen; I think she is great at writing characters that the reader can care about. And she excels at writing women with good minds and strong personalities. This novel has been promoted as a “stand alone” but I , for one, would love to see it become a series. I feel the author has only scratched to surface with these characters.
IN FARLEIGH FIELD is a novel about WW ll with great characters and an exciting plot; espionage, secrets and alliances of all kind are all explored in this excellent book.
The reader may want to read THE REMAINS OF THE DAY by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989) as a companion book.
This is a novel I read about a year ago and I loved it – so why has it taken me so long to put this review to paper? That’s a great question, and the nearest I can come to an answer is to say that I just didn’t feel like I could do it justice. This is terrific crime novel featuring a current case and two cold cases but it is also so much more… Some readers will appreciate the trip down memory lane to the eighties, the clothes and music, it brings it back. Other readers might be anticipating the resolutions of the three main cases. But for me – well – I have to admit I just love the way the author nailed “the nature of memory” It doesn’t hurt to have a likable (though flawed) protagonist with a sense of humour that is pointed, yet considerate of the difficult subject material.
This is fiction although it was loosely based on a true crime that happened in another year.
In this imagined account of the summer of 1986, Oklahoma City is rocked by two tragedies. A botched burglary at a local movie theater ends with the murder of six young employees, and a few months later a young teenager disappears at a local fair. Neither crime is solved.
Wyatt was sixteen that summer and inexplicably he was the only survivor at the theater massacre. It changed him forever: he moved away, changed his name and never looked back.
Julianna is the sister of the missing teenager. Unlike Wyatt, she stayed in Oklahoma where she obsessively tried to unravel the mystery of her missing sibling. The evening her sister disappeared has never left her mind.
It is 26 years later in 2012 and Wyatt is a private investigator in Las Vegas. A friend asks him to take a case in Omaha (as a favour— double pay) and Wyatt grudgingly accepts. Oops! What the friend meant to say was Oklahoma, and soon Wyatt finds himself heading back to a place he has avoided for 26 years. And he starts to remember things about that summer. This is where the author is brilliant at showing how the five senses trigger memory – and this is a guy who doesn’t want to remember. As soon as he sees the city skyline his stomach clenches. The scent after the rain, the taste of the food, the sounds unique to this city; they generate the memories of that summer and he is soon asking himself why was I the only survivor?
But memories can be fickle companions and Julianne is not having much luck remembering the night her sister vanished. Until…
This is a tremendous story that is well told and meaningful. A true gem – and there must be folks who agree with me because it has won a few awards ( among them an Edgar.)
The Long and Far Away Gone, 2015, HarperCollins, 454 pages
“In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war. ” — The opening lines of a speech given by King George Vl of England, on the day it was announced that England was at war with Germany. (September 3, 1939)
The 13th novel in the MAISIE DOBB’S series begins with Maisie rushing to the home of her dearest friend Priscillia, so they can listen to the Prime Minister’s announcement on the wireless: war has been declared. This is a time period the British often refer to as the “phoney war”, or Churchill’s term “the twilight war” where nothing much happens on land, involving the Allies, for about eight months – ( although the seas are a different matter). The children of London are evacuated to country homes and the adults of London must carry gas masks and adhere to strict blackout rules. The initial chaos contributes to the cases that Maisie must confront since the police force, and the bureaucrats are overburdened. Maisie is employed to investigate the murder of a man who was a Belgium refugee in the first war and she also attends to a little girl who is an evacuee with a mysterious background.
Fans of this series will remember that the first novel (MAISIE DOBBS, 2003) began in 1929 with Maisie, also a psychologist, opening her inquiry agency. Many of the early cases had seeds in the first war and many of the characters were physically or mentally wounded by that war. But there was also healing and new life. It is therefore terribly heartbreaking that many of the children that offered up hope throughout the series are now eligible to fight in the new war. And here is what separates a series from a stand-alone novel; the reader may become totally invested in the characters in a series. I thought the last book ( JOURNEY TO MUNICH, 2016) was the weakest in the entire collection but I still wanted more Maisie (and friends).
The author manages to convey an overall sense of incredulity among the older characters that there is – indeed – another war. And some acceptance. But the younger characters – meaning those who weren’t yet born during the 1st war or those who were too young to remember – often display a sense of excitement.
Overall I felt this was maybe not the best entry in this series – but it was good – and I will look forward to reading about the next chapter in Maisie’s life.
IN THIS GRAVE HOUR, a Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear, (2017), Harper Collins, 332 pages.
Scottish Crime Fiction
Scottish Island Fiction
This novel has so many of the elements that I love in a book that I was almost certain I was going to love it before I had even read a single page: I wasn’t disappointed. The main character is an oceanographer, working out of Edinburgh, named Cal McGill who has pioneered a program for using ocean currents, weather records, shipping documents, archives, wind speeds and a host of other information to explain the physical origin of items (or bodies and body parts) washing up on a shore. Where did the journey begin? He is also an eco-warrior attempting to bring attention to global warming and a loner who uses a bunch of anonymous beachcombers to feed him information.
Cal’s interest in the ocean was kindled in his youth when he discovered his grandfather had died during World War ll, after being washed overboard during a mission. He has an over-riding interest in discovering all the facts regarding this event. The small Scottish Island that had been home to this branch of his family for generations was abandoned after the war and many pieces of this puzzle just do not fit. This is my favourite plot line because I adore stories involving Scottish Islands. Peter May’s BLACK HOUSE trilogy is tremendous and I recommend it to any fans of this novel.
There is also a subplot featuring a young Indian girl exploited by a prostitution/pedophile ring. A third subplot revolves around the mystery of shoe clad feet coming ashore in strangely diverse locations.
.There is a secondary character – a policewoman named Helen Jamieson- and I hope I see her in future installments. Oh yes, there are already two more installments in this series…yippee.
So here it is in a nutshell.. a crime mystery, an interesting protagonist, and a Scottish Island. What is there not to love?
Published by Penguin Random House
I recently read and reviewed a mystery novel I enjoyed called “Murder at the Brightwell”,(Ashley Weaver,Minotaur 2014) featuring a spirited socialite named Amory Ames. It was set primarily in an upscale seaside resort hotel in 1930’s England and the dialogue was cracking …sort of Nick and Nora Charles–witty. The reason I am writing this post is because I am actually quite confused with a review I read in Publishers Weekly–“….the affable Amory could carry a series, though plausibly involving her in future murder cases will require some imagination.” Wait–huh? Somebody should have spoken to Madame Christie before she wrote twelve novels featuring a elderly spinster with a hankering for solving murders…and knitting. This has sent me pondering on the nature of the amateur sleuth ( not including the P.I. or police consultant ) The book stores are full of them; bakers, knitters, cake makers, Jane Eyre, librarians, cat lovers, cats, basket weavers (okay, not really sure about that one) decorators,dog lovers, dogs , etc.—all solving murders! I am not saying I am a fan of all these books but I am saying that the idea of any amateur sleuth is probably a stretch. I sincerely hope I never come across a single murder in my life, to say nothing of double digits. I am thinking now of Alan Bradley’s brilliant series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce; a child who has solved at least six murders (did I mention she’s eleven-years-old). Bradley writes so well she is almost believable.
So what is my point? How about this….Amateur sleuth series…you like them or you don’t, they’re good or they’re not, but plausible, credible, believable—-probably not most of the time.
And don’t have dinner with Jessica Fletcher.