jennaria: Soubi from Loveless, with his hair back, wearing glasses (sexy librarian)
I am up to date on my NaNo, hooray, so I'm allowed to stop and write up my weekly review. Where I'm going to find the time to read something for next week, I'm not sure, but I'll think of something. If all else fails, I can always review the game MYSTERY LEGENDS: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and go off onto a rant about PoTO sequels. :wry:

Anyway! On with the review! TEARS OF THE DRAGON, by Holly Baxter - key words: Chicago 1931, Chinese Civil War. For best effect, imagine this review read aloud, with faint pops and crackles in the background. )
jennaria: Soubi from Loveless, with his hair back, wearing glasses (sexy librarian)
I meant to write and post this yesterday, except a combination of factors (including but not limited to Cleaning All The Things, Only Getting To The Library This Week Instead Of Last, and Epic Meta Post of Unfinished Epicness) conspired against me. So. Um. Sorry!

THE TOMB OF ZEUS, by Barbara Cleverly - in which there is archaeology, and Crete, and a heroine who is strong and interesting and not a Sue, if only just barely. )
jennaria: Soubi from Loveless, with his hair back, wearing glasses (sexy librarian)
I was originally planning to review this last week, but I was in kind of a RAR HUMAN RACE RAR sort of mood, and it's a bad idea to write this sort of review when you're in that sort of mood.

What sort of review? I'm glad you asked.

THE TALE OF BRIAR BANK by Susan Wittig Albert - No! Bad writer! No dragons for you! )
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.