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The Venetian Masquerade - Philip Gwynne Jones

Nathan Sutherland,honorary consul and part time translator is asked to help the famous conductor, Thomas Lockwood, and his gorgeous talented partner,Isotta Baldan, an opera singer, in their quest for a mythical,but unfortunately lost,opera of Monteverdi. But death seems to follow in the wake of their investigations...

The setting,Venice during carnival, is of course absolutely stunning but somehow I'm missing some personal link to the city. We get all the names of the calle,piazza's...but there is a certain warmth,a deep involvement lacking. The relationship between Nathan and his partner Frederica is a bit soppy,a lot of tesoro,mio cuore,caro mio(and I mean a lot!). There is also a lot foodstuff going on,but there again, I don't have the feeling they are particularly enjoying their food apart from huge amounts of Spritzes (basically vermouth/Campari,white wine/prosecco and sparkling water.) Yes,Spritz is definitely an on going theme!

It is an easy read and it is not a bad story as the mystery of a long lost manuscript is captivating but it is certainly not as sparkling as the already mentioned Spritz. 

Sleep - C.L. Taylor

After a traumatizing experience in London where Anna was involved in a car crash and two of her passengers/ colleagues did not survive and a third passenger was seriously injured,she feels ,apart from feeling guilty, as if someone is stalking her and very soon paranoia and insomnia sets in. So she decides to leave the Metropolis and move to Rum,a small Scottish isle, where she is helping David,the owner, to run a small country hotel. A group of 7 hikers arrive in this charming hotel and they all bring their own secrets and problems. When a storm hits the island and the hotel is completely cut off things start to become a bit uncomfortable. Anna feels more than insecure and is convinced that her stalker is in the neighbourhood... It starts very slowly and I had a hard time getting into this story. Of course,the fact that I wasn't particularly attracted to Anna and that her fate wasn't a major concern to me,well it didn't exactly help. Somehow this story had all the right building stones,(storm, invisible threats ,isolated house,strangers meeting each other for the first time...)but it just lacked something. The different POV didn't help and their were some strange passages for instance:" He's dead", I whisper again. Her eyes fill with tears."Her being the whisperer... I know that this is a 4 to 5 star rating on most major sites but somehow it had all the promises but it just didn't fulfil them...

Unto Us a Son Is Given (Commissario Brunetti #28) - Donna Leon

An elderly family friend of his father-in-law and therefore of Commissario Guido Brunetti, contemplates adopting an adult man. His father-in-law asks Brunetti to intervene or at least talk some sense into the very wealthy,eighty-five year old Gonzalo. This adopted son would be the sole beneficiary of a more than substantial inheritance. But he is not the only one who looks upon this scheme with disguised,or not,horror. When Gozalo,while visiting his estranged family in Spain, unexpectedly dies from a brain haemorrhage waters start to stir in Venice. And old friend comes to Venice so she can organise a memorial service but just hours after her arrival she is found strangled in her hotel room. It is Brunetti's task to unravel any connection between Gonzalo and this victim and to find a murderer.... A Donna Leon novel hardly starts with murder and mayhem on page one,and it is not different here. And sometimes this slowly building up of both the story and the tension works and sometimes it doesn't and it is not to everyone's liking (this is by the way the 28th in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series,quite a feat...),but here it all comes together perfectly. It captures and keeps the attention and the curiosity of the reader well. The characters are well developed and it feels very (Venetian) Italian(food,way of life...) And then there is Venice,not exactly heaven on earth and not exactly inhabited by angels ,but still fascinating and intriguing enough to play a discreet leading role in this series. Yes,both Brunetti and Venice are back on track...

A January Killing: Detective Inspector Zig Batten 2 - Paul Toolan

It is an exceptional cold winter in Stockton Marsh where Wassail is celebrated, a pagan blessing of the apple orchards, topped with plenty of cider ,but this happy gathering is overshadowed by the death of one of the participants. Late as usual, he is found dead in the same orchard. We are quickly informed that his wife received an anonymous letter and that other letters are being distributed. It is clear that the Inspector Zig Batten and his team have to find a serial writer/murderer. The setting of a rural community in Somerset is very attractive, the characters, both main characters and bystanders are well developed but we are confronted by several POV's and they all seem to talk to themselves Ex.: "You've got to stop doing this,Zig.Doing what Zig? This hanging about ,where dead bodies are". Unfortunately several of them appear in the same chapter and blend into each other. Frankly,apart from being confusing is it also,and this is very personal,very annoying. Fact is,the storyline is full of opportunities but somehow it didn't deliver. Mind you,it has a very attractive cover...

Wakenhyrst - Michelle Paver

1966. The late Edmund Stearne,a gentleman and a murderer,creates a bit of a stir in the modern art world with his triptych that he painted while being a guest at Broadmoor,a high security psychiatric hospital. Because,yes, Edmund was a murderer. Right?

1906. Maude lives with her family in Wake's End,a rather grim, isolated manor surrounded by marshes and fens. Her father, Edmund Stearne,an egocentric, inspired historian with a predilection for medieval history has more than a tight grip on his household and after the death of her mother life becomes just a bit more unsettling for 15 year old Maude. She discovers her father's diary and so secretly follows his musings and thoughts. When Edmund discovers the Doom,a painting that represent the Last Day of Judgement,in the churchyard things start to break down for him. Present and past demons haunt Edmund and very slowly he becomes a more than tormented and haunted man. The outcome is both tragic and horrific...

This is a gothic story,a crime story and the story of the downfall of a human being. The bleak and haunting fens are a perfect background for this very atmospheric and mesmerizing story.

Dirty Little Secrets - Jo Spain

In a rather privileged gated estate called Withered Vale,a woman's body is found in her cottage. Apparently she has been dead for three months and nobody of this small estate noticed anything. So Detective Frank Brazil and Detective Emma Child start their investigation into the death of Olive,one of the first inhabitants of this small community even before it became the living space for six more or less affluent families(singles,couples and families with children). Very quickly both detectives realise that all of the inhabitants have small(large and big)secrets and that kind Olive was perhaps no so kind and treasured as some would like them to believe. Each of these secrets are important on different levels but they do lead to weakened positions and uncomfortable situations. But the questions remains,who killed Olive? 

Every chapter is told by a different inhabitant (including the deceased Olive) and it works perfectly,it keeps you guessing who the culprit is (as the whole lot are basically suspects) and the ending is definitely a surprise. 

A very good mystery with strong and well developed characters,two very likeable detectives, Frank,close to his retirement and Emma,an ambitious young wolf. 

Just sorry to hear that Frank is retiring...

Darkest Before the Dawn - Mike Martin

Newfoundland. A small town is confronted with the murder of a young loner and an attempted suicide of a young teenager. Sergeant Winston Wildflower and his(small)team have to solve this murder while he also has to take care of a B&B that he,his wife and their baby are starting up.

Well,I know this is supposed to be a cosy/cozy but this one definitely didn't work for me. The mystery is hardly a mystery at all and the showdown is more a bit of a let down. 

So what is left is endless talk about babies,their burbs,their noises and their diapers,detailed lunches(apparently Sergeant Winston finds time to go home for lunch notwithstanding the murder case),walks with the dog,tea/coffee breaks with goodies,shopping lists for a dinner party,the elaborated preparation of this menu and a detailed testimony of the tender love between husband and wife(and their baby).

As this constitutes about 80% of the story it is hardly a mystery.

That said,I liked the characters(the sergeant and his team are well developed and very likeable )but I don't think I belong to the targeted audience...

A Testament to Murder - Vivian Conroy

Malcolm Bryce-Rutherford ,a very unpleasant and very sick man,has invited several guests,both family and,well not exactly, friends to his beautiful house on the French Riviera. He announces to his puzzled audience that he will draw up a different will every day. If he dies the person who is mentioned in that " daily" will inherit the whole estate. Of course there are risks,not in the first place for Mr. Malcolm himself but also for the beneficiary. If Malcolm dies he or she could become the number one suspect. Nobody has any doubt that a murder will be committed but the victim comes as a bit of a surprise,followed by another murder and some strange mishaps. Luckily the neighbour,a retired Scotland Yard man,is there to solve these crimes.

The story and setting(a weekend party in an isolated manor house)has strong links to Golden Age (and Agatha Christie ) mysteries. And it works up to a certain point but it is a tad long winded and the "denouement "(in real Poirot style,all the suspects in the drawing room)and the gathering of evidence leading to this great revelation is missing something. Very hard to say what exactly but there it is...

Ruin Beach - Kate Rhodes

On Tresco,one of the many islands of Scilly, a young professional diver is found murdered in a famous (or infamous) cave. The year before another young woman was found drowned in the same place. Coincidence? D.I. Ben Kitto,a local man, back after a spell in the big Metropolis, has to find the culprit of this horrendous murder. Very soon the place is awash with rumours about a mythical Roman shipwreck. And as this is a close and small community,there is no lack of suspects...

It is a good murder mystery, a good storyline(although a bit long winded ),a fabulous setting and most of the characters are believable and well elaborated except D.I. Kitto ,it feels as if this character is not quite finished yet. Perhaps a firmer editing?

And then there is the dog,admittedly Kitto is not the willing and voluntary owner of Shadow but still...I don't think he calls the dog even once by his name,the dogs gets wounded but after some very basic treatment Shadow just limps on...Weird...

Alibi for a Corpse - Elizabeth Lemarchand

The rural community of Twiggadon (2 cottages,a"manor"house,a farm and a car dump) is startled by the discovery of a skeleton in the boot of a car. Scotland Yard is called in and D.I. Pollard and Sergeant Toye are sent to Northamptonshire to assist the local constabulary. The main problem is the identification of the victim (this was written in the sixties so no DNA,no digital database...) and the determination of the cause of death. After some solid detection work,with the help of the local constables, landlords and other inhabitants of the surrounding villages, one after the other suspect is cleared. Finally there is only one left but most of the evidence is circumstantial so they have to find a creative solution to capture their culprit...

Although written in the sixties, it has a Golden Age aura. Probably village life, small police stations and any absence of coarse language or behaviour (barring murder) ensures this atmosphere but that is fine by me!

Murder on a Winter Afternoon - Betty Rowlands

Melissa Craig,a successful crime novelist, is asked to finish the late Leonora Jewell her final book. Leonora died rather unexpectedly after a nasty fall in her cottage. As Melissa is trying to get as much information as she can in order to accomplish her task successfully, she encounters some discrepancies in different stories ,some things that do not match and all of a sudden poor Leonora's death is perhaps not so straightforward after all...

This is a blend between a cozy/cosy read and a typical English village murder. But it works,it doesn't sound too simplistic, the characters are not overly "vaudeville"and people do more than drink tea and have a chat with the vicar. 

And then,an English(Cotswolds I think) village in the winter is always a bit of a winner.

Happy Holidays !

La Passion de Dodin-Bouffant - Mathieu Burniat

This graphic novel is loosely based on the historical character of Brillat-Savarin ,a French gastronome par excellence. But it is in the first place an ode,an homage to French cuisine and its masters and lovers. And a strange but delightful love story makes it all the more human...

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.