Death on the Nile

968full-death-on-the-nile-photo
This coming week my mystery book club was going to meet to discuss Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I listened to the audio book and watched the movie. The audio book’s narrator David Suchet was terrific and brought the story to life.

While on a vacation in Egypt Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who’s forever telling people he isn’t French, gets on board a boat and finds his fellow travelers keep getting bumped off. There’s a love triangle consisting of Linnet, a wealthy heiress, Jacqueline her good friend and her Simon new husband, who was in love with the friend. There’s a German doctor, a rich, imperious woman and the young companion who resents her boss. The heiress’ trustee, her London lawyer her maid, and the maid’s married lover round out the cast.

16369

One eerie element to the story is that Jacqueline’s stalking Linnet. Everywhere they go Jacqueline’s there. Ever jumpy, things get worse when Linette is found dead. Poirot soon suspects everyone. Then the bodies start to pile up. The maid is found dead and then a third murder follows. Poirot finds almost everyone has a motive.

With Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansberry, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith and Olivia Hussey, the film is chock full of stars. Alas, I found the story in both formats lacking. I wasn’t pulled in to the story as Poirot didn’t use much hard evidence. It seemed that his main talent was supposition and conjecture to find possible motives. He doesn’t draw me in the way Sherlock Holmes does. I was left craving a better plot and more complex characters. I felt Christie just took the idea of Murder on the Orient Express and just made a few small changes.

 

Nerve

nerve-dick-francis-e1405043514399

Dick Francis’ mysteries are all set in the world of horse racing and Nerve is no different. I read it for a mystery bookclub and was disappointed. While I liked the affable hero, Rob Finn, I expected a murder in this mystery and a faster pace.

Rob Finn’s a talented steeplechase jockey, he’s an outsider in his own family of talented musicians. Finn also gained a little of my sympathy as he’s hopelessly in love with his first cousin. Yet as much I’m a romantic and found the cousin Julia a wonderful woman, she was his first cousin. For me that’s too close to be sure of good genetics should a couple have children.

In Finn’s world several successful  jockeys have been fired, injured and in once case the victim of suicide. What’s going on? It seems coincidental until just when Finn’s career begins to take off and he’s featured on a popular racing TV program, Finn’s horses fail one after another. Soon he’s shunned and isn’t getting as many races. Finn doesn’t understand it but vows to figure out what’s really going on and to rescue his reputation.

I liked learning about the racing world and I liked the touch of romance, but Nerve lacked mystery and the writing wasn’t terrific. I found that I could skim paragraphs and not lose out much. That’s not a good sign. My favorite writers make me savor every word.

The Suspect

suspectWhen two high school graduates, Alex and Rosie head to Thailand for a gap year, they’re looking for fun, for escape from the pressures their suburban parents put on them. Yet they land in a seedy guesthouse. The girls go missing and British journalist Kate Waters is assigned to get the scoop on what happened.

Kate’s your average intrepid reporter and is gung ho about getting the story right and first. She’s married with two sons, one of whom dropped out of university and went off to Thailand to save the turtles. When the two teens disappeared, Kate volunteers to do the reporting hoping to make a side trip to the Thai island where her son is volunteering.

Alex and Rosie are found dead in the cold storage of a sleazy guest house. Kate’s world is further rocked when it turns out her son isn’t volunteering and never did. He’s implicated in the girls’ murders. He’s been floating around Bangkok doing drugs and working at the same guest house where these girls stayed.

While this was a quick read and I enjoy stories set in locales the world over, The Suspect’s characters didn’t appeal to me. Alex was rather whiny and should have parted ways with her travel companion early on. Kate’s son was a wimp and a waster, who was good at manipulating his mother. Mama, who owned the guest house was the stereotypical “Me speak English good” dodgy foreigner.

I pity anyone who hasn’t been to Thailand who reads this book. In my book club today a few people fell into that group and they were repelled by the idea of going there. Thailand has its seedy side like many countries, but that’s not all there is.

Glass Houses

glass-houses-cover-promo

I enjoyed my first taste of Louise Penny’s work, Glass Houses. Set in a small Canadian town, this police/detective with hero Chief Inspector Gamanche break the most basic rules o policing in hopes of combatting two drug cartels, one Canadian and one US. Woven into this story is a spooky storyline with a mysterious character shrouded in black robes. Gamache soon learns about the legend of the Cobrador, the dark figure who stalks and scares those with guilty consciences. In Spain a Cobrador was a dramatic means of scaring people who were guilty of something or who owed a debt, i.e. a way to shame someone.

While Gamanche is trying to catch the drug runners in his questionable way, a Cobrador comes to his small town and is soon found dead.

Penny crafted characters I enjoyed. Her plot was daring and well-paced. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was superb. I can’t imagine reading the paper version and having a better experience.

There were portions where I wish the style was tighter, but all-in-all I recommend Glass Houses for any mystery fan.

A Beautiful Blue Death

bluedeathI learned about Charles Finch’s A Beautiful Blue Death at Citizen Reader’s blog. Again her recommendation was spot on. Finch’s first novel, a mystery introduced me to amateur detective Charles Lennox. Lennox’s friend Lady Jane asks him to look into the death of her former maid Prudence Smith.

Lennox is very much cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes, though he’s polished his social skill more than Benedict Cumberbach’s Sherlock. His right hand man is Dr. Mitchell, these amateur detectives are shrewd to have a close friend who can analyze poison, dead bodies and such. Graham is Lennox’s butler who’s willing to go to the ends of the earth for his boss.

Strong, fascinating female characters include

“Pru” is an interesting victim. She entrances me and as Lennox investigates he keeps learning of yet another lover. She appears to have been a strong woman who spoke up for herself and for what’s right, which is how she wound dead.

Following the Holmesian path, Lennox must deal with an inept Scotland Yard and that’s lead by Exeter, who’s about 5 steps behind Lennox vis-a-vis science and logic.

A Beautiful Blue Death has a smooth style and kept surprising me till the very last pages. Though Finch is American, his tone and style were very British. I’ll read more in this smart, delightful series.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The_Sweetness_at_the_Bottom_of_the_Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a cute mystery with with a precocious 11 year old heroine, Flavia de Luce. Set in 1950’s pastoral England, Alan Bradley’s novel is as sweet as can be and at times that sweetness was too much. I listened to the audio book which featured a gifted narrator, but after about 15 minutes not wanting to develop literary diabetes I had to turn it off.

The charming, brilliant Flavia is a chemistry whiz who can’t abide her older sisters. She plans and concocts a poisonous lipstick for her sister who loves wearing make up and focuses on her looks. Flavia is smitten with the Periodic Table and is an expert in chemistry, history and all things esoteric.

When a mysterious stranger is found dead on her family’s estate, her father is arrested for murder and Flavia begins to investigate. Of course, the police get involved, but as implausible as it sounds only Flavia makes any significant discoveries. The inspector’s role in the story is just as a foil to Flavia’s clever thinking. He’s not a bumbler, but I didn’t buy that the police seemed to make no progress on he case.

Bradley stuffed more clever metaphors into a paragraph than any author I’ve ever read. Flavia’s thinking was clever, but someone ought to teacher her to tone it down. No one speaks like this. Not even the most precocious child.

While I did like the mastery in small doses, I found the ending disappointing and Flavia’s character too sweet.

Inspector Singh Investigates #1

inspector singh.jpegShamani Flint’s first book in her Inspector Singh Investigates series examines a “Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder.”  The troublesome, overweight, snoring and shrewd Inspector Singh is sent from Singapore to look into the murder of tycoon, Alan Lee. His wife, a Singapore citizen and former model Chelsea Lee is behind bars for this homicide. Singh meets with her and his instinct tells him she didn’t do it.

Of course, the local police don’t take a cotton to an outsider snooping around, When Chelsea’s brother-in-law confesses to the murder, Chelsea and Singh are free to go, you might say, but Singh doesn’t buy this convenient confession and takes some vacation time to investigate.

Along with the murder, readers are treated to a vicarious trip to Kuala Lumpur. I have visited Malaysia a few times and I think Flint added the right spice to the murder mystery sauce here. I read it for a new book club that I’m co-facilitating and the club members enjoyed the story and it’s interplay of Malay, Chinese and to a lesser extent Indian culture. It was a pleasant, quick read that provided plenty to discuss.

Shadow of the Thin Man

th-4

A fun, entertaining old film, Shadow of the Thin Man brings Myrna Loy and William Powell reprise their roles as Nora and Nick Charles to exchange banter, wear stylish hats and solve a murder. When they go to the races, Nick gets roped into investigating a jockey’s murder. There are plenty of slick jokes about cocktail hour and the bon vivant lifestyle. At times it’s corny, but fun. Despite the murder, Nick and Nora deliver the light entertainment I was in the mood for.

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate

15793158

Engrossing and authentic, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins is set in 17th century England. It’s historical fiction mixed with mystery.

Lucy Campion begins as a chambermaid for the Hargrave family. The head of the family is a magistrate who takes his duties seriously and treats one and all justly (so he’s a far cry from Poldark’s George Warleggan).

When the lady’s maid, Lucy’s friend the teasing, lively Bessie disappears she’s soon found murdered. She had run off with the family silver in the middle of the night. Rumor had it that she went to meet a lover. She was sweet on Lucy’s brother Will and he’s accused of her murder, but it seems he’s been the victim of rumors and gossip in an era before the press had to fact check. In fact, most people got their news from sensationalized broadsheets sold for a penny. Lies could easily gain credence and be given ad testimony.

Will was Bessie’s beau, but she also was spending time with a libertine portrait artist who makes Lucy’s skin crawl. Lucy isn’t the typical rebel but she will defy social conventions to visit her brother at Newgate prison or to gather some evidence on the murder that took place at the same spot.

At an event at my public library, author and historian Susanna Calkins spoke of being intrigued by murder ballads that people in this era would sing, or buy and paste on their homes as decorations. These ballads inspired this fascinating story, that weaves historical detail throughout in a natural way.

In addition to murder the story features a touch of romance, which added a nice contrast to gruesome murder.

I learned a lot about life and history circa 1665. I didn’t know there was a plague that year, or that at a trial the accused, not the lawyer did all the interrogation. They took “face your accuser” very seriously. I didn’t know that warm potatoes were put in someone’s bed to keep it warm. There’s a whole lot more, but I suppose you should read the book to learn for yourself.

This story would be great on Masterpiece Theater. It’s a lively read and I found the characters well developed and engaging. I want to read more of Calkins’ work.My one quibble is the ending. Towards the end, when we discover who murdered all these servant girls, the murderer gives a long-winded monologue (well a couple questions were sprinkled in). I just didn’t buy that he’d elaborate in such detail.

The Moonstone

moonstone

Told by a several different narrators, all with different personalities and motives, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone entertains from start to finish. It begins with a family’s black sheep bequeathing a large, expensive jewel, the moonstone of the title, to his niece Rachel. The moonstone originally was a sacred jewel in India and three former Brahmans have come to England to get it back no matter what.

Rachel receives the moonstone on her 18th birthday when many have gathered for her party. She flaunts the stone all night and then puts it in a cabinet in her bedroom. During the night it’s stolen. Who did it? The Indian jugglers, who came by out of the blue? One of the servants–particularly the maid who had been caught stealing by her previous employer? Or a guest who’s in need of money? It could be anyone and Collins keeps the surprises coming chapter after chapter.

I enjoyed the humor and how the story was as much about the personalities of the characters and their relationships as it was about finding the culprit who took the cursed moonstone. I will soon read another Wilkie Collins’ story, that’s for sure.