A Study in Scarlet Women ~ BRC

I’ve only read a single Sherlock Holmes novel, and it was while I was in high school.  The Hound of the Baskervilles was required reading, and I enjoyed it (can’t say the same about Moby Dick).  So, while I am a fan of the CBS series Elementary, the BBC series Sherlock, and the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law movies, I haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s other works.  Thus, when I picked up Sherry Thomas’ latest, a historical mystery entitled A Study in Scarlet Women, I wasn’t aware that the title was a clever play on a Conan Doyle serial, A Study in Scarlet–or that the story was modeled loosely on the original.  I chose it because I’m a fan of Holmes and Watson fan–in all their many incarnations–and because Sherry Thomas is a really excellent writer.

scarletwomenFrom Amazon:

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Charlotte has many traditional Holmes characteristics (not counting her penchant for keeping track of how much plum cake translates to an extra chin), but she is, as expected, not blessed with the freedom subscribed to the original Holmes.  She makes a deal with her father that if she’s not found someone she wishes to marry by the time she’s twenty-five, he will fund her education, which she’s hoping to parlay into a position as headmistress of a girls school.

It comes as no surprise to anyone–except Charlotte–that he reneges on their agreement.  In retaliation, she decides to ruin herself and thus avoid a marriage she doesn’t want.  As expected, she is quite thoroughly successful.  This one decision is the impetus for the drastic turn in her fortunes:  Charlotte leaves home, and the woman responsible for spreading her ruin throughout society is found murdered, with both her father and sister considered prime suspects.  But Charlotte, having carefully studied Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage (a Who’s Who of Britain’s aristocracy), has connected this murder to two other recent murders, prompting her to send a letter (penned as Sherlock Holmes) to the coroner.  Suddenly, London is agog with curiosity–who is this Sherlock Holmes and what does he know?–but Charlotte is running out of funds and getting desperate.

A somewhat anonymous benefactor and a new patroness are her saving grace.  While consulting on the case of the three murders, Charlotte takes in clients needing help with little mysteries, all while pretending to be the sister of the mysterious Sherlock Holmes.  As can be expected, all the mysteries get neatly tied up, and Charlotte is left in prime position to embark on a new life, which will continue on in future Lady Sherlock books.

Without giving anything away, I will tell you that I thought Ms. Thomas did an impressive job of tying this story back to the original Sherlock Holmes stories.  It’s ingenious really.  So clever.  Make no mistake: this book is its own story–completely unique and fresh–but with the built in appeal of a much beloved classic character (different as she may be).  The only stumbling block for me was the heavy dose of information right at the beginning.  Within the first few pages, three or four storylines were introduced with various characters, and I had a bit of trouble keeping them all straight.  I did have to go back and re-read a few sections over again, but that is a minor detail for an otherwise stellar start to a series I’m very much looking forward to continuing.

Attention FCC: I bought this book, and now it’s a keeper!

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@Barrie Summy
Posted in book review club on 11/02/2016 12:10 am | 8 Comments

Maisie Dobbs ~ BRC

Happy October!  As Anne Shirley says, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a review.  In truth, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything.  I’ll claim the usual excuse: I’ve been busy doing lots of other things.  I’ve started writing a new book–one that’s a COMPLETE  departure for me.  It requires a lot of research, and I’m delighted to find that much of it is coming from online sources, which means I have access to every bit of it any time I need it.  I’m nervous about it, but excited too.  So that’s my quick and dirty update.


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As to books, I’ve been reading mostly mysteries of all sorts, and recently I finally got around to reading Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.  This book is not new.  In fact, over the months and years since it’s been out (book 12 in the series was recently released), someone in this book review club could very well have reviewed it.  Now that I’ve read it, here are my thoughts…

maisiedobbsBut first, from Amazon:

Maisie Dobbs got her start as a maid in an aristocratic London household when she was thirteen. Her employer, suffragette Lady Rowan Compton, soon became her patron, taking the remarkably bright youngster under her wing. Lady Rowan’s friend, Maurice Blanche, often retained as an investigator by the European elite, recognized Maisie’s intuitive gifts and helped her earn admission to the prestigious Girton College in Cambridge, where Maisie planned to complete her education.
The outbreak of war changed everything. Maisie trained as a nurse, then left for France to serve at the Front, where she found—and lost—an important part of herself. Ten years after the Armistice, in the spring of 1929, Maisie sets out on her own as a private investigator, one who has learned that coincidences are meaningful, and truth elusive. Her very first case involves suspected infidelity but reveals something very different.
In the aftermath of the Great War, a former officer has founded a working farm known as The Retreat, that acts as a convalescent refuge for ex-soldiers too shattered to resume normal life. When Fate brings Maisie a second case involving The Retreat, she must finally confront the ghost that has haunted her for over a decade.

This book was really like a book within a book.  The story starts with Maisie starting a new case that has its origins in the Great War.  She is intelligent, logical, intuitive (almost to the point of disbelief), and motivated.  Her investigation is progressing smoothly until her patroness invites her to visit and expresses a concern about her own son that relates to her current investigation.

Before we can find out the details on the intersection of Maisie’s personal and professional lives, the story flashes back twelve years (if I remember right).  Suddenly we’re immersed in Maisie’s old life as a servant and the progression of how she met her mentor and inspired Lady Rowan’s offer of patronage, and her time as a nurse during the war.  I completely forgot about the original story!  But then we’re back to the present (1920s) and Maisie is planting someone on the inside of the Retreat to unearth further information in the investigation.  As expected, that goes awry, but eventually leads to her solving the mystery.

My thoughts:

This book was incredibly well-written and researched.  The details of World War I and post-war life in Britain are fantastic. Maisie is an admirable heroine and quite likeable, although she is almost too perfect.  She’s never tired, despite rising before dawn to read and study, then working a full day in service, then staying up late to read further.  She’s nice to fault, always good spirited…you get the idea.  And the intuition is just a little much.  But the ending is my biggest complaint.  I can’t reveal why exactly, because that would be too much of a spoiler, but suffice it to say that I was shocked by the out-of-character behavior and disappointed both in Maisie and the author for ending the story that way.

Still, it’s a relatively minor fault in an otherwise really excellent book.  I’ve been told that this first book in the series is more historical fiction and the subsequent books are more mystery, now that the reader has been brought up to date on the backstory. I plan to read the second book in the series and see what I think.

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Posted in book review club on 10/05/2016 12:10 am | 7 Comments

Design for Dying ~ BRC

First of June, beginning of the summer, and the last Book Review Club until September! So if you need to stock up on summer reading material, take note, as I’m sure there will be a stellar selection of books reviewed this month. (Just click on the typewriter at the end of this post.)

A couple Twitter pals and I have started the Meet Mystery Bookclub, wherein we select the first in a series of detective novels, read it over the course of a few weeks (a few chapters a week), and chat about it using a prearranged hashtag. Our first selection was The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (#MeetPoirot), this month it is Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (#MeetWimsey), and July and August are scheduled (I think) for Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (#MeetPeabody) and Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood (#MeetFisher). If you’re interested in joining us, follow @MeetMystery to get the details!

But aside from all that, I read a debut mystery novel this month by a husband and wife duo (Renee Patrick), called Design for Dying.

design for dying hc.inddFrom Amazon:

Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl . . . until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.

Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces.

Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who’s not on the level. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough.

The first in a series of riveting behind-the-scenes mysteries, Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying is a delightful romp through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

This book was an impulse buy–it sold me almost instantly.  Between the cover design, the reviews (including blurbs from some of my fave mystery authors), and the back cover copy, I was completely intrigued.  And it didn’t disappoint!  Lillian Frost is a spunky amateur sleuth who emphatically doesn’t have stars in her eyes, and Edith Head is a feisty sidekick with plenty of connections, worldliness, and behind-the-scenes style strategies.  There was an impressive cast of characters (some quite famous!), a keep-you-guessing mystery, and just a hint of romance.  And it’s setup quite nicely for future books in the series.  So, if you’ve been looking for a Hollywood cozy (you probably haven’t, but if you knew one existed, you might have been), this is it.  Slide on your sunglasses and lounge by the pool with this sparkling debut.

FCC: I purchased an autographed hardback of this book at my local indie bookstore, Murder by the Book.

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Posted in Uncategorized on 06/01/2016 12:10 am | 7 Comments