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The Year of The Snake
Maryann Coleman, M.J. Trow
Murder on the Precipice
Penny Goetjen
The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger
Lucy Banks
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart  Turton

Basically this is Grounhog Day meets Tales of the Unexpected meets classic country house mystery. And it is cleverly done but unfortunately it did not work for me...it is well written and the characters are well developed but it felt so chaotic, so forced. Of course, the fact that none of the characters were endearing is both an asset and a drawback.

No,sorry,it just didn't work for me...

The Monastery Murders - E.M. Powell

1176.The sacrist of a Cistercian abbey has been horrible murdered. As the abbot is an old acquaintance of Aelred Barling,a senior clerk at the court of King Henry,it is evident that Westminster dispatches him and his assistant Hugo Stanton to this remote monastery in North-Yorkshire.
It is clear that their presence is not appreciated by the monks but a murderer is at large and a second murder is committed soon after their arrival. To make things worse, the weather takes a turn for the worse and the monastery is completely cut off due to heavy snowfall....and the feeling of security is replaced by a sense of fear.
Of course,an isolated snowed under monastery,is reminiscent of the Name of the Rose and Dissolution but both these book are quite an historical feat (and sometimes a bit of a challenge ) while this is an easy going read,with well developed characters and with a good insight in monastery life in the 12th century. And it is a good mystery !

Death Spins the Wheel - George Bellairs

An elderly French lady,after spending some pleasant time in the Isle of Man's brand new casino ,is found shot on the beach. Inspector Littlejohn ,while helping the Archdeacon assembling a conservatory,is asked by the local force to give a helping hand. It is clear that part of the solution is to be found in France,to be precise, in Evian. And everybody knows that old sins have long shadows..think Résistance ,betrayal,passion...
The storyline is undoubtedly good,but what makes Bellairs such a wonderful, relaxing read is the rather benign atmosphere,great characters and a sniff of a bygone era.

Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville

Six people,five of them lucky proprietors of some fabulous jewellery, and one out of job,out of luck outsider are invited for a weekend at a remote and rather gloomy country house by a mysterious, wealthy collector of jewels and precious stones. They are an Ill-assorted lot waited on by a very lugubrious butler. And then things start to happen,of course...one of the servants is not who he seems to be,a guest disappears,there is a very interesting and well appointed cellar...This is not so much a" who done it" but more of a "how is it going to end".

But notwithstanding  the great setting(an isolated country house always works for me) it did not impress me all that much. It feels like a not so successful imprint of P.G.Wodehouse. One expects to hear tally-ho any moment. No,not entirely my cup of tea...

Murder in Keswick - William Todd

Holmes needs some rest,at least Watson thinks so. So they(Watson )decide to spend some time in Keswick, a village in the beautiful Lake District. On their arrival at the station they are confronted with some agitated travellers. Apparently a beheaded body has been found along the road. The body seems to belong to Mr. Darcy,a well respected local gentleman. Holmes and Watson visit the local constable who is more than delighted to have the masterly mystery solver by his side. For once ,the local village constable is not depicted as a slow thinking idiot who can not take an initiative. And so they solve this crime with Holmes his usual panache.

There have been quite a lot of Holmes stories published of late,but to be fair not all of them recreate the right feeling...but this one does,the setting (Holmes in the countryside)is believable,Holmes and Watson their attitude is what it is,the characters and their behaviour is consistent with the original stories,the lenght(178 pages)is just right and the crime and its solution is reminiscent of A.C. Doyle.

The Killing Time - M J Lee

Shanghai, January 1932. China is faced with the threat of a Japanese invasion/annexation of Manchuria. The atmosphere in the International compound (mainly British)is very tense as it is is surrounded by a Japanese concession, a French one,a Russian one....and of course a lot of Chinese inhabitants. There is a boycott of Japanese shops and products and there are several riots. Amidst all these tensions,the body of young ,Chinese boy is found,horrible mutilated. Inspector Danilov(of Russian origin)and his inspector Strachan(with a wonderful Chinese/Scottish background) start their investigation in a rainy,damp and foggy Shangai. Very soon two other Chinese children disappear which bring the tension in the Settlement to a boiling point. When the bodies of the two children are found(mutilated,as the first child) the Chinese population (of Shanghai)take their revenge and attack some Japanese monks. Needless to say this,and the fact that more Japanese warships found their way into Shangai harbour,does not exactly improve the precarious situation. But then a Japanese boy disappears and Danilov has to reconsider his theories about these brutal murders.
Of course, the storyline is good,the horrible murder mystery keeps your attention but what is so remarkable about this book,is the atmosphere it creates. One is practically present at this amazing setting that is Shangai in 1932. You can feel the chill of the fog,hear the street hawkers selling their goods,smell the street food,inhale the coal smoke....And although it is perhaps not always particularly pleasant it definitely is full of life!

The Temptation of Forgiveness  - Donna Leon

It is very difficult to maintain the same quality throughout a longstanding series as this one(this is number 27...). And although that the storyline is still very good,the development of the characters is too detailed(looks,hand movement, breath taking,frowned eyebrows...).But this is unfortunately not exactly an added bonus. It does not lead to more understanding, more depth...

That said,one of the main characters is the city of Venice and Venice fulfils its role to perfection!

 

The Manton Rempville murders - Julian Worker

A man is found murdered among the ruins of a medieval monastery. The weapon used is an ancient sword belonging to the nearby Hall. It is obvious that the culprit must be found among its inhabitants, domestics or guests. 

This is a strange one,everything points to a country setting in the ,say thirties (gardeners,butler,youngster down from Eton...)but the inspector and his sidekick are using cell phones,e-mails, hi-tech DNA research. The thing is,it doesn't enrich the story,it has no real added value.

And it just drags on an on(I can imagine the reader tapping her or his fingers on the table!)

And to top it off, the denouement leaves one with a whole list of questions...unanswered questions...

Son of zeus - Glyn Iliffe

Heracles(Hercules)is the son of Almecedes and Zeus (who slept with her while pretending to be her husband Amphitryon). As a birthday present Zeus gives his son immeasurable physical strenght(he lets Hera nurse him without her knowledge so he acquired this supernatural power of the goddess herself). Well,Zeus's good lady wife,the goddess Hera,is not  best pleased with this dalliance and even less with the outcome. So Hera, who's middle name is revenge,works out a plan to get rid of this abomination. Meanwhile,Heracles has sowed some of his wild oats and is settled with his loving wife Megara and and their 3 children in Thebes when disaster strikes,in a fit of madness, he kills his 3 sons. After wandering for a while he asks the oracle of Delphi for advice. She tells him in no uncertain terms that if he wants to find out the truth about that night of madness and wants to find some redemption, he has to perform certain labours. For this reason he becomes a slave to his cousin who is king of Tiryns(also thanks to the lovely Hera ). Of course Hera does not want Heracles to find out the truth nor find any atonement so she has her hand in the choice of these famous labours.
This is historical fiction based on Greek mythology but it reads as a fantasy story(the lion of Nemea,a white hind with golden antlers and a seven headed snake)albeit with a sad and bitter undertone. One can not help but feel sorry for this giant who's life is manipulated by the whims of the gods. This is the first part of the trilogy (3 labours done,9 more to go)but it is not the classic retelling of the myth,Heracles and the other characters are so much more than individual parts of this myth. Yes,I think I will probably follow Heracles his further adventures...

Crook's Hollow - Robert Parker

Someone is trying to kill Thorn Loxley,the estranged youngest son of a farmer dynasty. And then they try again and he decides to deal with this ordeal all by himself. This rural community is somewhat in turmoil.There are developers on the horizon and Thorn owns the deeds to a piece of land that is needed so this company can create a housing estate. The other grounds are owned by another farmer dynasty, the Crook family and needless to say,they are at daggers drawn. And so the attempts to murder Thorn continue... The storyline is not bad and it has a certain potential but none of the characters feel real,they are all so shallow. The book(not really the story)feels immature. And the end is absolutely over the top. Really over the top. Sometimes a good editor is a blessing...

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries) - Elly Griffiths

Ruth Galloway,a forensic archaeologist,goes to Italy at the request of a Italian colleague (and a former one-night stand). Bones have been found at an excavation that raise a lot of(historical)questions. While Ruth stays in a medieval village in the Lazio region,she is confronted with the strange behaviour of certain characters and of course,murder.
This is the 10th book in this series and as with all series,the quality is somewhat variable. The mystery of the Dark Angel feels like a frame story to the story of Ruth's relationship with the father of her daughter,a married D.I.,who's wife is pregnant but perhaps not by him(on/off,on/off, I want you,no,I don't....)Perhaps closure of this particularly relationship might be a good thing for both the characters and for the storyline.

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living - Mark Greenside

An American buys a house in Brittany (it really doesn't matter, it could have been Provence,Dordogne,Auvergne...)and is confronted with the inhabitants and their very local habits. Fair enough,but what I don't get is that the author has spent 2 months every year in Brittany for 25 years and his vocabulary still doesn't reach beyond bonjour and bonsoir.. A copy of French for Dummies would be very appropriate. The result is that both the author and the French sound like complete idiots. Not very respectful towards your adoptive country,is it? And there are some grammatical errors (not the author's)for instance : probléme instead of problème. Apparently the editor also needed a copy of French for Dummies ). Still,there are some passages in this book that definitely made me smile,always a good thing...but it has been done before and so much better...

 

Dark waters - Mary-Jane Riley

Two men are found dead on a little cruiser moored in the Norfolk broads(small waterways surrounded by marshes,meadows and woodland).
At first sight it looks like a suicide pact,although a strange one as both men don't seem to have a lot in common. Alex Devlin,a not so very successful journalist,is intrigued by the setup and starts digging....the past has an ugly habit to emerge when you don't expect it...
What makes this a fabulous read,apart from a very good storyline that keeps you guessing,is the personality of the main character. Yes,she is a nosy journalist,but she is not a monster,she feels guilt,empathy,compassion. It is a welcome change to all the detectives,inspectors,reporters,amateur sleuths who are arrogant, so sure of themselves, rude or absolutely obnoxious...I really liked it!

Broken Bones - Angela Marsons

D.I.Kim Stone is a rather well known character(especially to crime (book)lovers) and this is the seventh in the series. The book consist of several storylines that do relate (more or less)to each other. There is a serial killer targeting sex workers, an abandoned baby,a frozen unknown man, illegal workers and a missing young girl. And although it works,it is also the main problem.Four policepeople (including D.I.Stone)take on this whole load of misery. 

It just doesn't feel right. There is just too much going on. 

Mind you, the outcome of one of the cases is surprising and very interesting. 

The Well of Youth: The Last Prophecy Series 1 - E.J.Dawson

Although this is listed as a fantasy story it is much more an adventure story. True, the story is set in an imaginary world but it is a very recognisable one. Professor Holloran went missing when he left on a mission to follow some ancient texts referring to a well of youth, allegedly giving eternal life to the lucky drinker of this magical water. So the government sends out a dashing female captain, the professor's favourite student Andy and another scholar named Osewyn to find both the professor and the well. What follows is an adventure that features a marvellous ship called Juggernaut, an encounter with a Kraken,pirates,ice covered landscapes, huskies and colourful characters. This is the first in the trilogy and as said before, it is a great adventure story.

The Gate Keeper - Charles Todd

Set in the early twenties,this book just breathes golden age with a very modern twist. A very perturbed inspector, suffering from post-war trauma, finds himself involved in a mysterious murder(a man stops a car in the middle of the night and shoots the chauffeur ). Not only does he needs to solve the case,he is also confronted with a certain animosity from the villagers and the local constabulary. This is a perfect read for lovers of the British detective story (villages,gentry, murder...)but this is definitely not a soppy read. Good story,right atmosphere and good characterisation. Very good.