jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
First of all, I wanted to thank my sponsors - y'all gave over $125 dollars to the Nature Conservancy, which is three times what I raised last year. Thank you!

Second of all, ten last mystery reviews in short-short form, covering settings ranging from murder among the Quakers to murder at a strip club. )

Still little if any brain capacity, despite sleeping half the day. Am holding out from going back to bed until a slightly more reasonable hour, though, or I'll be waking up at 3 AM with my sleep schedule utterly wonked. Wheeeee.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
BLOOD HINA, by Naomi Hirahara.

Cover copy: Mas Arai's best friend and fellow Hiroshima survivor, Haruo, is getting married and Mas has grudgingly agreed to serve as best man. But then an ancient Japanese doll display of Haruo's fiancee goes missing, and the weddng is called off with fingers pointed at Haruo. To clear his friend's name, Mas must untangle a web of secrecy dating all the way back to the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II and U.S. drug-running in the 1980s - a world of heartbreaking memories, deception, and murder.

Gender of detective: male

This felt more alien than the book actually set in Japan! Then again, it also felt more real -- the snapshot effect again. It's an odd feeling for even a lightweight otaku like me, whose exposure to Japanese is mostly anime or fellow otaku rather than actual Japanese (or Japanese-American, as here) usage.

This has strong women, but the older is strong in what I understand to be the more usual Japanese way (passive, enduring), while her daughter tries to be strong in a more active sense (seeking the thief of the dolls) and has a harder time with the Japanese sense (...would 'recovering from drug addiction' slot under here?). Mostly it's Mas's show, and he's not young. Not bad, but not so good that I would seek out more in the same series.

*

I read once that being up for 24 hours straight has roughly the same effect as being legally drunk. Lord knows I feel that loopy, although we did manage to see Kris off without falling down the back stairs like dominoes. Yay.

In honor of Team Venture, from down the street:

It's over. Thank fuck.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
THE MURDER ROOM, by P.D. James.

Cover copy: The Dupayne, a small private museum on the edge of London's Hampstead Heath devoted to the interwar years 1919-1939, is in turmoil. The trustees - the three children of the museum founder, old Max Dupayne - are bitterly at odds over whether it should be closed. Then one of them is brutally murdered, and what seemed to be no more than a family dispute erupts into horror. For even as Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team investigate the first killing, a second corpse is discovered. Clearly, someone at the Dupayne is prepared to kill, and kill again.

The case is fraught with danger and complexity from the outset, not least because of the range of possible suspects - and victims. And still more sinister, the murders appear to echo the notorious crimes of the past featured in one of the museum's most popular galleries, the Murder Room.

For Dalgliesh, P.D. James's formidable detective, the search for the murderer poses an unexpected complications. After years of bachelorhood, he has embarked on a promising new relationship with Emma Lavenham - first introduced in DEATH IN HOLY ORDERS - which is at a critical stage. yet his struggle to solve the Dupayne murders faces him with a frustrating dilemma: each new development distances him further from commitment to the woman he loves.

THE MURDER ROOM is a story dark with the passions that lie at the heart of crime, a masterful work of psychological intricacy. It proves yet again that P.D. James fully deserves her place among the best of modern novelists.


Gender of detectives: two male, one female

The cover copy only cites Dalgliesh, but he has two subordinates who do nearly as much of the detecting, thus my notation.

Honestly, this is a straight-up puzzle sort of mystery, despite the cover's attempts to make it something more. Dalgliesh's 'complications' get short shrift - there's very little concerning his relationship either way, and no particular disaster winds up happening. The most complicated part of the puzzle is actually the re-creation of the Murder Room crimes: the more you stop and think about it, after finishing the book, the less that part makes sense.

*

Mariposa isn't quite sure what I think I'm doing, but it can't possibly be as important as petting the cat. I'd defend myself, except I'm not sure what I think I'm doing either.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT SITTER, by Blaize Clement.

Cover copy: Until three years ago, Dixie Hemingway was a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department in southwest Florida. Then came a tragic accident. Now Dixie's a pet-sitter on Siesta Key, a lush, exotic barrier island where the people tend to be rich, suntanned, and tolerant of one another's quirks.

As Dixie tries to get her life back in order, pet-sitting is the perfect job. She goes into people's homes while they're gone and takes care of their pets; she likes the animals, they like here, and she doesn't have to deal with people very much. She especially does not have to be afraid that she'll run into a situation that will cause her to lose her hard-won composure.

But when Dixie finds a man bizarrely drowned in a cat's water bowl, she is drawn into a tangled web of danger and secrets. Unbeknownst to Lieutenant Guidry, the homicide detective handling the murder, Dixie begins her own investigation into the whereabouts of the cat's owner, who has vanished. Fans of THE CAT WHO... book series by Lilian Jackson Braun will adore this riveting new pet-oriented sleuth and will eagerly await Dixie's next case: Will duplicity dog the dachshund?


Gender of detective: female

Any resemblance to THE CAT WHO...series ends at the presence of felines. Dixie is broken - that accident took out her family and left her untouched - and she's doing pet-sitting because she can't take the pressures of cop work any more. Except then she's put into a situation where she has to face that kind of pressure.

She still winds up confronting the murderer on her own, and still winds up needing a rescue. But she also figured that out and set up the rescue, so that sort of cancels out. Maybe. Still worth checking out more in the series.

*

I have no brain and I must blog. Or at least eat cinnamon toast.

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010. One more hour, folks. Last chance to sponsor me!
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
SHE SHOOTS TO CONQUER, by Dorothy Cannell.

Cover copy: On a dark and foggy night, charming amateur sleuth Ellie Haskell, her husband, Ben, and her plucky sidekick, Mrs. Malloy, are stranded at the grand yet terribly dilapidated Mucklesfeld Manor on the Yorkshire moors. Shortly before their precipitous arrival, Lord Belfry of the Manor had made the startling decision to save his crumbling establishment by offering himself as the prize on a TV reality show titled Here Comes The Bride. The candidates are to be average women, chosen not for their charm or looks but for their ability to withstand the rigors of a week spent floundering through veils of cobwebs and sleeping on ancient bed linens, all in hopes of becoming Lady Belfrey.

Upon hearing of the elaborate scheme, and thrilled at the prospect of marrying a lord, Mrs. Malloy eagerly joins the competition. But after one of the potential brides is pierced with an arrow during an archery contest, she begins to rethink her eagerness to leap into this particular gothic romance. Ellie begins to investigate, exploring the dark passageway and hidden nooks of the delightfully spooky estate, but she may not be prepared for the secrets lurking behind closed doors.


Gender of detective: female

One of the pull quotes on the back recommends this to fans of Aunt Dimity. I can see the resemblance, at least somewhat: the surface ditziness, the love of imagination.

For the rest, this is a more than usually idiotic cover summary. The first murder is via car crash, not arrow. The archery contest doesn't happen until nearly the end of the book. Likewise, the reality-TV scheme gets a lot more development, with lots of Gothic Romance riffs (from the producers, not anyone else). And most key of all, Ellie is indeed not a total ditz.

She does need a big dramatic rescue at the end, in the best Gothic tradition. Ah, well. Suppose you can't have everything.

*

I'm trying to go through and grab the better books I haven't reviewed yet from my list. Stef is watching True Blood over on the couch. Yay efficiency?
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
DARK WATERS: A MACY ADAMS MYSTERY, by Sibylle Barrasso.

Cover Copy: When the body of a prominent Boston professor, the nation's foremost AIDS expert, washes up on the banks of the Charles, it's news. When the forensic evidence reveals the professor had been zonked out on Valium before drowning and the M.E. rules the case a homicide, it becomes the front-page lead story . But when Browne's diminutive widow is arrested for murder, and juicy details of their marriage are made public, the result is a media frenzy.

Macy Adams is the private eye Evelyn Browne hires to save her from spending a life sentence in prison. But the more Macy finds out about the relationship between the widow and her deceased husband, the more she questions her client's innocence. There is the couple's trial separation, the husband's many affairs, the fact that Evelyn had drugged her husband with Valium before. And lastly there is the two-million-dollar life insurance that names Evelyn sole beneficiary - a policy allegedly taken out without the deceased's knowledge.

As Macy delves into Mitchell Browne's private life, she uncovers more hidden skeletons. By all accounts, Mitchell Browne wasn't a nice person. Besides rumors of financial fraud and irregularities with his AIDS research, there is a disillusioned mistress, a misunderstood son, and a brother cheated out of an inheritance. Then Macy discovers a dark secret about Browne's life that is more shocking than anything she could have imagined.

Macy's troubles escalate as she continues to tread on people's toes. A killer suddenly feels threatened, as Macy gets dangerously close to the truth. Instead of being the hunter, Macy better watch out -- lest she end up like Browne, a lifeless corpse beneath dark waters.

A fast-paced private eye novel, the suspense of this whodunit will keep the reader hooked until the final page.


Gender of detective: female

On the one hand: this is set in Boston. Yay!

On the other hand: it does not ping against my own picture of Boston at all, nor convey the feeling of time-space snapshot. Boo! (And it had a couple of seeming bloopers: to be honest, if there's a tabloid-style photographer lurking outside someone's home, I'd think they were from the Boston Herald before the Boston Globe.)

On the third, and probably most important hand: despite the above, I enjoyed this book. The puzzle elements are as carefully stacked as a game of Jenga. There are enough personal elements to make everyone a person, but not so many that they overwhelmed the puzzle elements. I actually liked the heroine. And possibly most important of all, the Big Secret mentioned on the cover was not either that the victim was gay nor that he was HIV positive. (But it was still big enough that it was believable as a Big Secret, so to speak.)

*

Mariposa is pestering Kris rather than either of the typists. This is right and proper. Although maybe she should go pester Stef, who is drifting out to sleepies at a noticable rate.

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010. Last few chances to sponsor me!
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
THE BIG STEAL, by Emyl Jenkins.

Cover copy: Hoyt and Mazie Wyndfield were the sort of couple that everyone admired. Charming and elegant, they'd furnished their Virginia manor house, Wynderly, with beautiful antiques and rare treasures from their exotic travels. So it was natural that after their death Wynderly would become a treasured museum. But a burglary exposed more than simple theft.

Hired to assess the value of the broken and missing antiques, intrepid appraiser and amateur sleuth Sterling Glass finds that her job is more complicated than she'd anticipated. Why would this well-heeled couple have so many fakes among the extremely valuable antiques? Working her way through uncovered diaries, old receipts, and one hidden room after another, Sterling finds the plot - and the players - ever-expanding in this mystery of provenance and deception.


Gender of detective: female

There are no deaths in this novel.

("Everybody lives! Just this one, Rose, everybody lives!")

(...er, right, sorry about that.)

The sad thing is, I was disappointed. No murder. No big theft, despite the title: there's a little theft, which is what brings Sterling to the museum in the first place, and something deeper and older, which is what she discovers, but even that's not a clear-cut single theft. There are a couple points where I thought someone might die, but no.

The point to this novel, insofar as there is one besides antiques, is secrets - women's secrets, kept from habit or from duty or just from the delight of having one to oneself. It's an interesting topic, but not what I was expecting from the book. You know where you are with a murder. Secrets are trickier.

*

The sun's risen again. Let's see if I can persuade my eyes to do the same.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
YOU'VE GOT MURDER, by Donna Andrews.

Cover copy: Normally a workaholic techie, Zack has missed work for several days. So his friend, Turing, does the only neighborly thing, and checks to see if Zack has logged in from home No luck. Then she skims the databases of local banks to find his personal identification number. Nothing. Next she searches police and hospital records throughout the state. No Zack.

Turing is no crazed stalker: she is an artificial intelligence personality of Zack's creation. But, unlike other AIPs, Turing is sentient -- and she senses foul play. Fortunately, when Zack created her, he downloaded into Turing every murder mystery in his library, so Turing would think like a detective. She does find some clues to Zack's disappearance, but the enemies may well lie in the real world -- where Turing has no ability to move.

Fresh, funny, and surprisingly moving, YOU'VE GOT MURDER is a novel you'll never forget -- and the first mystery to feature the equally unforgettable character of Turing Hopper, a mainframe computer with a mind like Miss Marple and hardware that hides a suspiciously human heart.


Gender of detective: either female or neuter, depending

This was actually much better than I expected, to be honest. Turing is not Miss Marple, and indeed the whole thing tread the line between mystery and thriller, as Turing gradually uncovers a plot to 'murder' - not Zack - but every AIP working for her company. Turing is helped by a 50-something human female (who knows that Turing is an AIP), and a 20-something human male (who doesn't), which help 'humanize' Turing further.

*

Dammit. Why is it so much easier to think of things to say when I don't like something? Of course, my complete lack of brain probably isn't helping here.

Hark, the sound of the kettle boiling! Tea is calling my name. Sweet tea, gentle tea, hath no fellow. ...somebody stop me, I already did my Shakespeare-related mystery.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
LOCKED ROOMS, by Laurie R. King.

Cover copy: Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King's highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling mystery series. And this time the first couple of detection pair up to unlock the buried memory of a shocking crime with the power to kill again - lost somewhere in Russell's own past.

After departing Bombay by ship, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are en route to the bustling modern city of San Francisco. There, Mary will settle some legal affairs surrounding the inheritance of her family's old estate. But the closer they get to port, the more Mary finds herself prey to troubling dreams and irrational behavior - a point not lost on Holmes, much to Russell's annoyance.

In 1906, when Mary was six, San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and a raging fire that reduced the city to rubble. For years, Mary has denied any memory of the catastrophe that for days turned the fabled streets into hell on earth. But Holmes suspects that some hidden trauma connected with the "unforgettable" catastrophe may be the real culprit for Mary's memory lapse. And no sooner do they begin to familiarize themselves with the particulars of the Russell estate than it becomes apparent that whatever unpleasantness Mary has forgotten, it hasn't forgotten her. Why does her father's will forbid access to the house except in the presence of immediate family? Why did someone break in, then take nothing of value? And why is Russell herself targeted for assassination?

The more questions they ask of Mary's past, the more people from that past turn out to have died violent, unexplained deaths. Now, with the aid of a hard-boiled young detective and crime writer named Hammett, Russell and Holmes find themselves embroiled in a mystery that leads them through the winding streets of Chinatown to the unspoken secrets of a parent's marriage and the tragic car "accident" that a fourteen-year-old Mary alone survived -- an accident that may not have been an accident at all. What Russell is about to discover is that even a forgotten past never dies...and it can kill again.


Gender of detectives: one male, one female

Continuing our Accused Mary Sue Power Hour, we have Mary Russell -- first Holmes' apprentice, then his wife. I'll admit to picking up this book in fear and trembling. Holmes was one of the icons of my childhood, and there is so very, very much bad Holmes fiction out there.

To my relief, Russell didn't read nearly as Mary Sue as feared. There are hints in that direction (for fuck's sake, she's Holmes' partner, which is startling enough, and also his wife, which is worse), but at least in this book, where Russell is repeatedly described as being self-handicapped by her own denial of her past, she isn't given any plot coupons and I came to her same conclusions at about the same time.

The biggest problem I had wasn't so much Russell as it was Holmes. I felt as though I could have swapped out Holmes for any number of possible pulp heros, without particularly affecting the plot, Part of this, I gather, is that King argues that Holmes is actually at least ten years younger than commonly accepted, and thus it is a man in his 60s I'm reading about, rather than a man in his 70s or older.* I have a harder time judging the use of Chinatown and the Chinese: despite King's best attempts, I can't think of any way to use them without running into questions of cultural appropriation and so on.

Over all: like Reiko, I'll score Russell on the good side of the Mary Sue meter...for now, and subject to further study. King can write: I picked up one of her Kate Martinelli books and was pleasantly surprised how they treated the characters. It comes down to whether a good writer can redeem certain subjects.

*My initial reaction was a shrug - it wouldn't be the first time, nor the second, that authors have manipulated ages for their own purposes. On the other hand, clicking a link in Wikipedia yielded the claim that she had merely restored Holmes to his proper years, and freed him up for a long and healthy middle age, and I admit to a native distrust of any such grandiose claims.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
THE CONCUBINE'S TATTOO, by Laura Joh Rowland.

Cover copy: Twenty months spent as the shogun's sosakan-sama -- most honorable investigator of events, situations and people - has left Sano Ichiro weary. He looks forward to the comforts that his arranged marriage promises: a private life with a sweet, submissive wife and a month's holiday to celebrate their union. However, the death of the shogun's favorite concubine interrupts the couple's wedding ceremony and shatters any hopes the samurai detective had about enjoying a little peace with his new wife.

After Sano traces the cause of Lady Harume's death to a self-inflicted tattoo, he must travel into the cloistered, forbidden world of theshogun's women to untangle the complicated web of Harume's lovers, rivals, and troubled past, and identify her killer.

To make matters worse, Reiko, his beautiful young bride, reveals herself to be not a traditional obedient wife, but instead, a headstrong, intelligent, aspiring detective bent on helping Sano with his new case. Sano is horrified at her unladylike behavior, and the resulting sparks make their budding love as exciting as the mystery surrounding Lady Harume's death.

Amid the heightened tensions and political machinations of feudal Japan, Sano faces a daunting, complex investigation.


Gender of detectives: two male, one female

This is another series that I'd tried picking up, but which hadn't caught my interest. This time around, however, I had a specific interest. According to the same fannish scuttlebutt that had recommended the series to me, Reiko was a total Mary Sue.

Is she? She certainly has elements in that direction: an expert martial artist, as clever and observant as Sano. But the part that really makes me raise my eyebrows is how gender issues are handled.

Women's power, in Japan of this era, seems to have been entirely indirect -- they could act only by influencing a man to do what they wanted. At least, this is how the roles of women-who-are-not-Reiko are portrayed. Reiko, however, has supposedly been brought up as if she were a son instead of a daughter. This miraculously gave her the outlook of, well, a modern woman. Sano realizes, remarkably quickly for so great a change, that the traditional life of a woman kind of sucksa, and thus agrees to all of Reiko's demands. "We will both have to make changes," Sano says, but where are the changes Reiko is making?

So. For I ARE INDEPENDANT WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR, I'd put her on the borderline. But not past it, not yet, not for this book alone. The next book...well, I'd have to read it.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
DEAD WATER, by Ngaio Marsh.

Cover copy: It was one of those moments without time that strike at body and mind together with a single blow. A black shape, half-inflated, pulsed and moved with the action of the spring...

Alleyn had to get through the turnstile. He picked up a stone, hit it home and wrenched at the handle. There was a click and he was through and running to the spring. She was lying face down in the pool, only a few inches below the water. Her sparse hair rippled and eddied in the stream...The gash in her scalp gaped flaccidly and before he had moved the body over on its back...he knew whose face would be upturned towards his own.


Gender of detective: male

Wow, there's telling you nothing, and then there's telling you nothing! Take it away, Amazon:

FAITH HEALING CAN BE FATAL - When intrepid octogenarian Emily Pride inherits an island, and the miraculous properties of its "Pixie Falls" healing spring, she is shocked by all the vulgarity. The admission fee, the Gifte Shoppe, the folksy Festival, the neon sign on the pub, all must go! But local opposition runs high, death threats pile up, and Miss Emily's old friend Superintendent Roderick Alleyn arrives just in time to discover a drowned body and a set of murder motives that seem to spring eternal. The one other key fact that's left out: the dead body isn't Miss Emily's, but that of her most vocal opponent, the owner of the Gifte Shoppe.

This novel isn't set early in the series -- I suspect it's rather late, actually, but I couldn't prove it except by triangulating via the existence of Alleyn's wife and son. That's the thing with Marsh: she's better about character development and depth than Christie, but her characters don't run as deep (and as dependent on being read in the proper sequence) as Sayers.

It's a good book. A bit predictable -- there's a New Zealand girl, for example, who is involved with someone who is not guilty of the murder in the slightest. But then, the beauty of Marsh is that she is predictable. She won't get too wrapped up in psychology, nor let a character get away from her, nor yank the rug out from anyway. You always know what you're getting with her.

*

Kris is asleep on the futon, so it's down to Stef and me keeping each other awake. ('And sane,' says she. 'Bit late for that now, innit?' says me.) Four and a half more hours. Where's that Barq's?

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010. Sponsor me (thank you, [personal profile] swankyfunk!)
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
THE PATHS OF THE AIR, by Alys Clare.

Cover copy: It is late autumn, 1196. A secretive stranger arrives at New Winnowlands and Sir Josse d'Acquin guesses that he is the servant of a returning Crusader. Josse allows him to stay in an outhouse, but after the sick man disappears one night he seeks the assistance of Abbess Helewise of Hawkenlye Abbey.

Then a merchant and his boy find a body beneath the trees of the forest fringe. The victim had been savaged. When three Knights Hospitallers arrive on the trail of a runaway monk, Josse realizes that his mysterious guest has brought with him danger and a terrible secret...


Gender of detective: female

For all the author boasts in an afterword of her research (my learnings, let me show you them), this is less medieval by an order of magnitude than the previous novel. This is mostly due to a heavy Wiccan/fantasy undertone: there are People of the Forest with clearly magical abilities who worship a goddess, who co-exist remarkably peacably with a Christian abbey, and quite a lot of 'POV character somehow knew X!' with implications of something higher test than just keen observation.

Meanwhile, there's a running counterpoint of scenes somehow involving a young Knight Hospitaller at a hostage exchange for a handsome young Arab, who had been a merchant's unwilling sodomite. (Which scenes amuse me, mostly because the subtext in them is so clear that later, when we meet the young Knight, there's a fair bit of NO REALLY THAT YOUNG ARAB HE WAS JUST A TOTAL JERK NOTHING THERE BETWEEN US AT ALL NOSIREE CAN'T IMAGINE WHY YOU MIGHT THINK THAT. See also: protest too much, methinks.

It does not suck. But I also have a much higher tolerance for pseudo-fantasy medieval than I do for gritty authentic medieval politics, so bear that in consideration.

*

Whoops. There was a book I meant to do an hour ago, and missed. Must double back and do that next.

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010. Sponsor me!
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
HANGMAN BLIND, by Cassandra Clark.

Cover copy: November, 1382. The month of the dead. Close to the Feast of St. Martin in the fifth year of King Richard's reign, Abbess Hildegard rides out for York and the Abbey of Meaux.

This is no ordinary journey. It is a time of rival popes, a boy king, and a shaky peace in the savage aftermath of Wat Tyler's murder. As Hildegard embarks on a perilous mission to secure the future of her priory, with only her two hounds for protection, she encounters a gibbet with five bloodied corpses and then the body of a youth, brutally butchered. Who was the boy, how was he connected to the men hanging from the gibbet, and what do these gruesome deaths mean? Hildegard is determined to uncover the truth, no matter how terrible it may be.

When even her childhood home, Castle Hutton, turns out not to be a safe haven from murder, Hildegard realizes she will have to summon all of her courage and wisdom to counter the dark forces that threaten her friends and family as well as her country.

The first in an engrossing new series of medieval mysteries, HANGMAN BLIND introduces a remarkable and unforgettable new heroine.


Gender of detective: female

If one wants to write a medieval mystery, with a female detective, by far your best bet is a nun. As is pointed out in this novel, nuns had most of the same rights that married women did, without having to answer to a husband. So both this novel and the next have nun detectives.

There the similarities pretty much end, however. This one focuses on the politics of the time, both religious and secular. Everything is very gritty, as if to make it more real. Even Hildegard isn't allowed to escape unscathed: not only is there a lovingly described attempted rape, the narrative makes a point of sexualizing her perceptions of her friends and acquaintance, as if Hildegard somehow would be less human if she didn't feel sexual desire, vows or no vows.

I wasn't particularly impressed. Part of it was the self-conscious grittiness, noted above. Part of it was the heavy accent on the aforementioned politics, never my favorite subject. And part of it was the even more gratuitous survival of the villain, for the evident purpose of, well, having a recurring villain. Bah.

*

"Stef, if you're going to keep sexing up Disney songs, at least do it in writing."

(No, really. I already knew that 'A Whole New World' could be really sketch, but 'Be Our Guest'? Poor, poor Lumiere.)
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
ONLY FLESH & BONES, by Sarah Andrews.

Cover copy: A young girl's repressed memory holds the key to solving a murder in Sarah Andrews's terrific new novel featuring geologist Emily - Em - Hansen.

Miriam Menken, wife of oil millionaire J.C. Menken and mother of Cecilia, died suspiciously of a drug overdose, and Cecilia was the only witness. Traumatized for months afterward, Cecilia has blocked out the entire event and has blamed herself both for her mother's death and the fact that the murder is unsolved.

J.C. also happens to be Em's former boss from back in her Denver oil business days, and he bamboozles the unemployed Em into helping him with Cecilia: if Em can unlock the secrets in Cecilia's grief-stricken brain and help her get her life back on track, hell help Em find a job. Em's desperate, so she's hooked.

Em's task is to get Cecilia to recover her memory and her confidence, but she can't help looking into the crime as well. She soon begins to unearth fragments of truth about Miriam's troubled life, including a tortured relationship she had with a shadowy man from her past. Who is he, what power did he have over Miriam, and where is he now?

Once again, Em quickly becomes wrapped up in a complex and dangerous case - and once again, Andrews delivers a winner.


Gender of detective: female

For some reason, reading the cover, I got the idea that Em would be something like, oh, Aaron Elkins' Gideon Oliver. Solving crimes through the power of Rock Science!

Alas, as perhaps I should have guessed from that same cover, no such luck. It isn't about geology. It's only barely about Cecilia, as Em eventually admits. It's really about psychology - Miriam's, and Em's. Especially Em's. Especially how fucked up Em's is, and how she has Issues.

On the one hand, this is part of a series, so perhaps the author believes (and has reason to believe) that the audience already knows and likes Em, so she can get away with this kind of thing. In practice, I'm only turned off ever seeking out anything more by this author. I read mysteries for the mystery, not for the detective's psychological trauma. (It is, in fact, possible to earn my interest in psychological trauma, but it takes more than authorial fiat.) Thumbs down.

*

Six more hours! ...it's very very quiet outside. :peers out the window:

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010. Sponsor me!
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
TO DIE FOR, by Tessa Barclay.

Cover copy: In London to organize a series of concerts, Greg Crowne - otherwise known as Crown Prince Gregory von Hirtenstein - has befriended a pretty Polish countess, Marzelina. When Marzelina is found dead behind the rolling stacks in the Museum of Music Heritage, Greg is inevitably drawn into the police investigation.

It emerges that Marzelina had been sent to England by an elderly relative, Estelle Wiaroz, a Chopin enthusiast who has learned of the discovery of a lost Chopin manuscript. Armed with a letter of credit, Marzelina had been instructed to buy the scrap of manuscript. Not surprisingly, no sign of the manuscript nor of the letter of credit is found on the body.

It seems that Marzelina and Estelle may be the victims of a complex scam, the unraveling of which will take Greg and his girlfriend Liz Blair to Paris and Scotland on the trail of a thriving Chipin forgery industry...


Gender of detective: male

It's not so much that Greg is a music expert, and the leads are all music-related. That's the way it works with mysteries: you have to have some reason why your detective is the one ferreting out the connections, rather than someone from the police. Unless of course you're writing about a police detective, in which case it's their job, or a private investigator, ditto.

The problem is really that there's nothing in the victim's past, no reason for her to die except the Chopin, not so much as 'whoops, flashed too much cash in front of the wrong person.' Maybe it's just that I'm too used to false leads and red herrings -- but this mono-focus wound up feeling railroaded, with the result of the whole thing ringing a bit false. The writing isn't bad. It's just that her meta-reasoning is showing a bit too clearly.

*

Let's try again on
that whole haiku hour thing.
Yay, I think it worked!

Also, I have had berries and whipped cream. Mariposa is magnificently sprawled out on the couch next to me, fast asleep. Sneak, sneak, sneak, sneak....
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
ILL WIND, by Nevada Barr.

Cover copy: When national park ranger Anna Pigeon needs to find peace, she turns to nature for solace. Lucky for her, it's close at hand -- but then again, so is murder...

Newly assigned to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Anna is enthralled by its ruins: the ancient cliff dwellings of a vanished Native American civilization. But Anna's reverie is shattered by an inexplicable illness affecting visitors to a popular landmark -- and two mysterious tragedies: the death of a child...and the murder of a friend. Now she must find the very human source of the evil wind that is blowing through the ruins. For it threatens more innocent lives -- including Anna's own...


Gender of detective: female

Holy shit, is there a lot left out of that summary. There's the emotional entanglement (not an affair, not yet) that Anna's having with the friend who gets murdered, Anna's other friend who's getting stalked by her ex, the fed who shows up who may or may not have a thing for Anna...I'm probably creating the false impression that this is one of those mysteries with all sorts of soap-opera-esque sub-plots, and it's not true. It's mostly that, despite this clearly being part of a series, it doesn't assume that you know everyone already. The characters are allowed space and depth and agency.

This book was left behind in the break room where I work. I read it there. Go figure.

*

Someday, I promise
to write a haiku for you.
This is not that time.

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010, entering Haiku Power Hour, yo. Sponsor me.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
HOUNDED TO DEATH, by Rita Mae Brown.

Cover copy: From New York Times bestselling author Rita Mae Brown comes the latest novel in her enthralling series of foxhunting mysteries. Richly imagine and utterly engaging, HOUNDED TO DEATH reveals the cut-throat world of competitive hound shows as both human and animals alike try to solve a series of bizarre deaths.

"Sister" Jane Arnold, esteemed master of the Jefferson Hunt Club, has traveled to Kentucky for one of the biggest events of the season: the Mid-America Hound Show, where foxhounds, bassets, and beagles gather to strut their championship bloodline stuff. But the fun is squelched when, immediately after the competition, one of the contestants, Mo Schneider, turns up dead - facedown, stripped to the waist, and peppered with birdshot. Universally detested by his peers, Mo had no shortage of enemies, making the list of suspects as long as the line for homemade pecan pie at a church bake sale.

Two weeks later, back in Virginia, Sister is rocked when her friend the popular veterinarian Hope Rogers dies from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Sister refuses to believe that Hope killed herself and vows to sniff out the truth. But before she can make real headway, a wealthy pet food manufacturer vanishes during the granddaddy of all canine exhibitions, the Virginia Hound Show.

Ever reliant on her "horse sense," Sister can't help but connect the three incidents. And what she uncovers will make her blood run colder than the bodies that keep turning up in unexpected places.

Thrilling adventures with horses and hounds, breathtaking vistas, furry friends, familiar faces - including Shaker Crown and the girls from Custis Hall - Rita Mae Brown weaves all these elements into a dazzling novel of suspense.


Gender of detective: female

This is the sort of book that includes a list of characters before the story starts. Unusual, but not unheard of. But this is also the sort of story that includes a list of hunting terms before the story starts. Oh dear, I thought, I'll have to refer back and forth. Except then, as I read, all hunting terms were defined in-text. So what was with the list of hunting terms?

It comes across as a symptom of what the book is like. The characters seem to believe there's something inherent better, inherently more moral about liking and understanding hounds and horse*. On its own, eh. But there's also political soapboxing (worrying about discrimination when there are starving people in the world is selfish, see), and if that's not enough, the animals talk. But you can only sometimes understand them, if you are wise in the ways of hounds and horse, and the moon is full, and the author needs a plot device. Just to top things off, after the author spends the entire book telling us how intelligent "Sister" is, she only solves the murders because she literally stumbles across another one in progress. Not an impressive showing, that.

Overall, another series that failed to impress me nearly as much as the cover copy thought I should be. Bah.

*Ironically, I've encountered this attitude before in fiction - there's a certain kind of Regency romance wherein the heroine adores horses and doesn't understand anyone who doesn't.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
UNKNOWN MEANS by Elizabeth Becka.

Cover copy: In Elizabeth Becka's latest highly suspenseful novel, forensic scientist Evelyn James returns to investigate a harrowing series of crimes - only to find that no one is safe.

Evelyn James is a forensic specialist in the Cleveland Medical Examiner's office who's juggling a demanding workload, a teenage daughter from a failed marriage, and a homicide detective boyfriend. And somehow she always happens to be involved in some of the twistiest, most challenging crime scenes imaginable.

This time around she's called in to investigate what appears to be a locked-room mystery: A wealthy woman is murdered in the penthouse suite of a luxurious, high-security building. The building's intricate surveillance system didn't pick up anything, the entrance wasn't forced, and the victim's husband has an airtight alibi. Cases like this, Evelyn knows, can turn on the most microscopic piece of evidence, if she can find it. Then Evelyn's best friend is attacked - and things get personal. When another body is found in an apartment across town, Evelyn realizes the killer's choice of victim is anything but random...


Gender of detective: female

Despite all recent rants, I do not actually object to heroines who go off on their own, boldly investigating even when their overprotective boyfriends tell them not to. Well. Not too much.

On the other hand, this actually manages a nice balance of personal stuff with a puzzle-type mystery. And while the heroine does go off on her own, she and said homicide detective boyfriend come to the solution at the same time, totally separately. ...of course, then the heroine goes off to confront the murderer and winds up accidentally on purpose slicing him in half with an elevator and I, uh, guess she doesn't get convicted on manslaughter charges? Could you claim self-defense if someone was totally willing to chop you into elevator goo?

*

Thia, reading: Stef, I think you meant 'faun' with a 'u', not a 'w'.
Stef: Oh. I thought that looked weird.
Thia: I mean, otherwise... "Bambi! Jack, what have you done to Bambi!"
Stef: I'm fixing it!

Team Mariposa: not letting sleep deprivation get in the way of important editing.
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
BREAKING FAITH, by Jo Bannister.

Cover copy: When she called her business "Looking For Something?" Brodie Farrell hoped to receive challenging commissions from interesting clients. Even by her standards, though, demon rock musician Jared Fry is hard to please. Fortunately his manager, the charismatic Eric Chandos, is easier to like, and it's with him that Brodie works to find a new home for the rock star.

An old coaching inn on the Downs seems the perfect choice. Though the locals are appalled - and their teenagers thrilled - at the arrival of the self-styled Satanist, Fry's primary concern is his new swimming pool. And that's when he realizes that the protestors outside are the least of his problems.

Brodie's troubles are only just beginning, too. She has a long-term relationship with gruff, hard-working Detective Superintendent Jack Deacon and an important platonic friendship with Daniel Hood, a quiet teacher with hidden depths. So why does she find herself so drawn to Chandos? And how much is she going to risk before the real trouble stars?


Gender of detective: male

Brodie isn't actually the detective, really. She's the main character, but either Jack or Daniel is the detective. I think. It's not entirely clear.

I suspect part of the reason I'm so willing to believe Brodie isn't the detective is because she's so blind to Chandos for most of the book. He's bad news, and not even subtle bad news. Consequently, when Brodie falls for his magnetism, it doesn't make him more impressive: it just makes her look stupid.

Then again, I'm really not clear on why either Jack or Daniel adore Brodie. Pretty much everyone admits she's a bitch, with the possible exception of Brodie herself. We're told she's intensely loyal, but mostly we just see her making more difficult the lives of those she supposedly cares about.

I did adore Daniel, though. We're not only told he's intelligent, we get to see him being intelligent. And he's the one character who's actually allowed to get the better of Chandos in a slanging match.

*

Ian is engaging in Wii Baseball, which at least makes sure I can't fall asleep, not if he's waving a Wiimote around like that.

Team Mariposa, Blogathon 2010. Sponsor me (and if you do, let me know)!
jennaria: Bloody hand writing with a quill, text 'blogathon 2010' (mystery)
EXIT THE MILKMAN, by Charlotte Macleod.

Cover copy: Charlotte MacLeon possesses the "gift of farce," says the HOUSTON POST. In her Professor Peter Shandy mystery series she delivers it with "generous dollops of...warmth, with and whimsy" (SAN FRANCISCO SUNDAY EXAMINER & CHRONICLE). Now her newest book puts horticultural professor Peter Shandy, America's homegrown Hercule Poirot, on the trail of a missing bovine expert at Balaclava Agricultural College. And Shandy is sure to step into a heap of, well, trouble, during his tenth and most baffling case yet...

Professor Jim Feldster will do anything for his cows and his students of dairy management...and anything to avoid an evening at home with his bossy, house-proud wife, Mirelle. A member of every lodge in the county, he's out of the house most evenings, and on this particular night, escaping to a meeting of the Scarlet Runners. On the way, he bumps into a neighbor, Peter Shandy, who is out strolling with his cat, Jane Austen. Professor Feldster never arrives at his meeting.

Meanwhile, at precisely 2:47 A.M., a distraught Mirelle arrives at the Shandy household pounding at the front door and accusing the Shandys of harboring her wayward spouse. Before he knows it, Peter and his librarian wife, Helen, are knee-deep in another mystery.

Where is Professor Feldster? What dark secrets could possibly be lurking behind his life of grain supplements and electric milking machines? Peter and Helen's good friend, mystery writer Catriona McBogle, is serendipitously plunged into the case, and all three begin to plough through what appears to be a herd of lies. Soon Peter discovers that Jim Feldster, assuming he is not dead already, is in terrible danger. Mirelle faces perils as well - and they're a lot more serious than someone tracking mud on her white carpet.

A passion for cows is a fine thing, but when investigating criminal motives, Professor Shandy knows to look for more fundamental impulses, such as love, green and revenge. In EXIT THE MILKMAN, he does it with elan and tongue-in-cheek, as Charlotte MacLeod once again pens a mystery filled with delicious wit, good to the last satiric bite.


Gender of detective: male. Mostly. With lots of help from a woman.

The woman in question is the mystery writer Catriona. (Who coincidentally has the same initials as the author, gets along with everybody, has the world's worst sense of direction which still gets her to where she needs to be, in a cosmic sense...) She literally stumbles across not only the reason why Jim was vanished, but also Jim himself. She avoids Mary Sue-dom by the narrowest of margins, mostly the fact that the book isn't about her, and she seems gracefully aware of that.

The Peter Shandy parts, on the other hand...the style is very reminiscent of THE CAT WHO..., except this book actually remembers it's a mystery. It's still cutesy as hell, most notably with its footnoting of references to previos events with the title of the book in which said even occured. But it keeps the focus on the mystery and solving it, not on the Peter Shandy is Cuter Than You Show.

One final interesting element: Jim lives. Mirelle winds up dead, rather messily so. Neither of them are exactly saints. The cynical part of me wonders why the author chose to kill her off, rather than, say, just have her attacked. I suppose if she lived, it wouldn't be as much of a happy ending for Jim... [/cynical]