Big Sky

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (Website)

Genre: mystery

Setting: mostly a seaside town in the north of England

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Jason Isaacs

Source: My own Audible collection

Length: 11:22:00

Published by: Hachette Audio (25 June 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I’m giving this 3 out of 5 stars only because Jason Isaacs’s narration was superb. The story itself was kind of boring. As with the rest of the books in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, Big Sky starts with Jackson working on a case, this time staking out a couple to provide proof of their infidelity to his client. Then, showing the kind of weird luck only Jackson seems capable of, he encounters a man on a crumbling cliff and gets sucked into a ring of sex trafficking and kidnapping. Of course, the only person who can solve things and fix it is Jackson.

If he weren’t so sexy, Jackson Brodie would be really fucking annoying. The whole trope of “only I can solve this” was old to begin with, and now it has been pretty much ruined by the Lobotomized Hitler currently squatting in the White House, and it’s a pretty arrogant thing to think regardless of who is saying it. 

It was nice to see Reggie come back in this story. Last we saw of her, she was a lost and scared young lady trying to get by mostly on her own. It was fun to see her in this story and see what she’s made of herself. Other than Reggie and Jackson, sometimes, I really found not one likeable character in this story. The traffickers of course were revolting, but Julia is a shallow twit, Nathan is a typical teen and no one really likes those, and most of the others were pretty one-dimensional. The plot itself wasn’t terribly compelling to me, and Atkinson’s style of writing is so nonlinear that listening to this as opposed to eyeball reading it was a chore. I found myself not listening to it as often as not, and only kept going by pure virtue of Jason Isaacs’s sexy voice and skill in narrating. I really wish he would narrate more audiobooks. He’s one of my very favorite narrators, and it isn’t just because he’s my mega celebrity crush. He is a genuinely excellent narrator, able to do a variety of accents well, and even reading women’s voices nicely. I hate it when male narrators do a falsetto for women, or make them sound like brainless morons. Like, what women do you know who really sounds like that? Isaacs does nothing of the sort and all his voices are authentic and believable. I just really wish Audible could/would make more use of his voice talent.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo's CallingThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (Website)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: mystery

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robert Glenister

Source: my own collection

Length: 15:54:00

Published by: Hachette Audio (30 Dec 2012)

Cormoran Strike is a private detective living in London. Typically, he investigates missing people, extramarital affairs, and the like. But when Lula Landry, a supermodel, falls to her death in an apparent suicide, her brother begs for Cormoran’s help to investigate. He is convinced his sister didn’t jump but was pushed, that her death was a murder. Cormoran takes the case and is rapidly enmeshed in the world of high fashion and the ruthless, greedy people Landry had surrounded herself with.

Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling for anyone who’s been living under a rock) delivers a thoroughly tepid story that really drags in spots. I truly don’t know what all the hype was about. The plot was actually quite boring and predictable, despite being overly convoluted at parts. My opinion has nothing to do with wanting her to write more like Harry Potter. It is an adult mystery, so I don’t really know why so many people gave her negative reviews because it wasn’t written like Harry Potter. Helloooo, it’s a totally different genre! Even so, it was deadly dull in general. I only kept listening because it ticks a box for a reading challenge task.

Strike seems in many ways like the opposite of the usual private detective. He’s described as kind of short and really hairy. He is not handsome, and frankly, even if he were, his excess hair, described as a pelt or like a coconut mat, would take care of that. Yuck. I don’t really get why Rowling would want her protagonist to be kind of gross, unless it is just to make readers (and characters) focus on his skills rather than his looks. Which, if so, well done on the social commentary about the shallowness of modern society! If not, then just why? I did like that he is a protagonist with a disability, and that the disability wasn’t a constant focus of the narrative. It just was the way he was. The occasional reference to his aching stump or badly-fitting prosthesis was about it; Strike isn’t defined by his disability. 

In other ways, Strike is entirely typical – down on his luck, broke, difficult relationships with all the women in his life, ex-soldier, more competent than the cops or than anyone gives him credit for, with a sassy but highly competent assistant who kind of has a flame for him. It is very cliched.

I wanted to like this one, I really did. I wanted to see Rowling write an adult novel that grabbed my attention and was pleasingly complex. But I was disappointed. This was the first adult novel of hers I’ve read and it doesn’t inspire me to read any more. The narrator did a good job on this, but that was probably the best part of the book for me.

The Distant Hours

The Distant HoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton (Website, Insta)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction/ mystery

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Caroline Lee

Source: my own collection

Length: 22:31:00

Published by: Bolinda Publishing (26 Oct 2010)

Edie Burchill never really understood her mother. But the arrival of a letter, lost for 50 years and addressed to Edie’s mother from Milderhurst Castle, sets Edie on a mission to discover the mysteries of her mother’s past. Mystery mixed with a bit of the Gothic and the romantic, the plot takes Edie back to Milderhurst Castle, her mother’s home during the evacuation of London’s children during the Blitz. There, she meets the sisters Blythe, twins Persephone ‘Percy’ Blythe and Seraphina ‘Saphy’ Blythe, and their younger sister Juniper. Edie digs deep to discover why her mother is so reluctant to talk about her time at Milderhurst, why the abandonment of Juniper’s fiance in 1941 sent her mad, and what the twin sisters are really hiding. 

This was a solid Gothic mystery, though not one of my favorites. It seems like it has all the requisite components of a very good Gothic mystery, but something was just lacking. I think there was often too much telling and not showing, what must have been pages of no dialogue (listening to it on audio makes it a little hard to tell), and then the denouement was kind of flat and not really a surprise. 

I didn’t really like Edie very much. Not that she was a bad character or anything, she was just rather boring. Maybe this was intentional on Morton’s part because the sisters Blythe were certainly NOT boring. Maybe Morton did that so she could highlight the eccentricity of the sisters. Whatever it was, I did very much enjoy the sisters. The writing style itself was also nice. I like the florid style of Gothic literature, and while this wasn’t exactly florid or fully Gothic, I liked the atmosphere Morton created all the same. 

This was my first read from Morton and, while I didn’t care for some aspects of it, I liked her writing and am happy to give her other books a go. 

Case Histories

16243._sy475_Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (WEBSITE)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: mystery

I read it as a: paperback

Source: Public Library

Length: 310 pp

Published by: Back Bay Books (1 Sept 2004)

This first installment in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series introduces, well, Jackson Brodie, private detective and former detective inspector. Case Histories starts off with three different stories being introduced to readers by way of short chapters outlining the characters and reasons we should be interested in them. In short, they are given as case histories. The various stories cross paths in one way or another, whether through a chance encounter in a park or simply through the character of Brodie himself, acting as detective for all parties. The stories are all varied, from a missing child in the ‘70s to a murdered young woman in the ‘90s to an axe murderer’s sister looking for her lost niece. 

I enjoyed this a great deal. I had read one of Atkinson’s books a long time ago, Life After Life, and was bored to death by it. I’m not sure if it was just that I wasn’t in the mood for that particular book at that particular moment or what, but I didn’t like it. I steered clear of her books after that, but decided to give this series a go when I came across the BBC series Case Histories, starring my current mega crush Jason Isaacs. I loved the show and thought I would try the titular series, and I am very glad I did. Atkinson’s writing style might take a little getting used to, but it reads easily and the stories were fun.

I have to say that for such an alpha male, Jackson sure gets his ass kicked plenty. I think it is funny, but it was also perhaps established with the very first time he is introduced in the book, when he’s sitting in his car listening to a ladies’ talk show, thinking about his daughter, who he loves, his ex-wife, who really did one over on him, and he is watching a woman to find out if she’s having an affair. He is complex because he is very much an alpha male – former soldier, former cop, current private detective – but he also is ruled by the women in his life and he seems quite happy for that to be the case. He’s protective of most people he comes across, even if he doesn’t really like them. 

This story also took a look at different ways to grieve and to think of people who are no longer here. Theo idealized his daughter, Laura, even though she wasn’t perfect. He himself seems to think that it is surprising she was his daughter because he thought she was so perfect. He said to himself that he loved Laura more than his other daughter, Jenny. I think if he had not had such a clear image of her in his mind he would have had an even harder time with his grief because he would have had to reconcile Laura’s imperfections with the image he had of her. Probably he would have felt even guiltier for not loving his other daughter as much, too, since he could have had a closer relationship with Jenny. The Land parents clearly favored Olivia over her three older sisters, and it was obvious to them all. It made Olivia’s disappearance harder on her sisters because she was their favorite, too, and there was nowhere for them to go to visit her or remember her. The not knowing is, I think, harder than knowing for sure someone is dead, because you don’t know what is happening to them, what kind of life they are living, or if they even remember you. It would be so much worse, in my opinion, not to know the fate of a loved one than to know for certain they were dead. Lots of complexity in the various plots, which is fantastic. Most mysteries seem kind of one-dimensional to me. This one is more literary than a lot of others I’ve read. 

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.
  • God and Sylvia had been on speaking terms for almost as long as Amelia could remember. Did she really think he spoke to her? She was delusional, surely? At the very least a hysteric. Hearing voices, like Joan of Arc. In fact, it was Joan of Arc she used to speak to, wasn’t it? Even before Rosemary died or Olivia disappeared. Had anyone ever entertained the possibility that Sylvia was schizophrenic? If God spoke to Amelia she would presume she had gone insane.
  • It was an education (although one Jackson had already been subject to) because Theo was extraordinarily good at documenting the banal details of failure, the litany of tiny flaws and cracks that were nothing to an outsider but looked like canyons when you were on the inside – “He buys me carnations, carnations are crap, every woman knows that so why doesn’t he?” “He never thinks to run a bit of Toilet Duck round the bowl, even though I leave it out where he can’t miss it and I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him a hundred times.” “If he ever does any ironing it’s ‘Look at me, I’m ironing, look how well I’m doing it, I iron much better than you, I’m the best, I do it properly.’” “He’d get me my breakfast in bed if I asked him to, but I don’t want to have to ask.” Did men know how much they got on women’s nerves?
  • Boys took a long time to become men but daughters were women from the kickoff.
  • What did you do when the worst thing that could happen to you had already happened – how did you live your life then? You had to hand it to Theo Wyre, just carrying on living required a kind of strength and courage that most people didn’t have.
  • What if reincarnation existed, what if you came back as a pedophile? But then what would you have had to do in the first place to deserve that? What did the holy girls come back as? Flocks of doves, groves of trees?
  • But Jackson couldn’t make Marlee safe, he couldn’t make anyone safe. The only time you were safe was when you were dead. Theo was the world’s greatest worrier, but the one thing he didn’t worry about anymore was whether or not his daughter was safe.
  • “She’ll spend it on drugs,” she said to Julia as they walked away from the girl. “She can spend it on what she wants,” Julia said. “In fact drugs sound like a good idea. If I was in her position I would spend money on drugs.” “She’s in that position because of drugs.” “You don’t know that. You don’t know anything about her.”
  • “Is ‘macheted’ a verb?” Amelia asked Julia. “Don’t think so.” Well, that was the end then, she was Americanizing words. Civilization would fall.
  • A lot of people thought Theo spoiled his girls, but how could you spoil a child – by neglect, yes, but not by love. You had to give them all the love you could, even though giving that much love could cause you pain and anguish and horror and, in the end, love could destroy you. Because they left, they went to university and husband, they went to Canada and they went to the grave.
  • There was that survey, years ago, that found that women didn’t feel threatened by a man carrying the Guardian or wearing a CND badge. Jackson had wondered at the time how many rapists started carrying a Guardian around with them. Look at Ted Bundy. Stick your arm in a plaster cast and women think you’re safe. No woman was ever truly safe. It didn’t matter if you were as tough as Sigourney Weaver in Alien Resurrection or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, because wherever you went there were men.
  • The clavicle was tiny and fragile, like an animal’s, a rabbit or a hare, the broken wishbone of a bird. Jackson kissed it reverently because he knew it was the holiest relic he would ever find.
  • “To my friend, Mr. Jackson Brodie, for being kind.” He had cried when her solicitor had read that out to him. Cried, because he hadn’t been particularly kind to her, cried because she didn’t have a better friend, that she had died alone, without a hand to hold. 

The Woman in the Window

40389527._sy475_The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  1 out of 5 stars (1 star only because I actually finished reading it)

Genre: mystery/thriller

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 427 pp

Published by: William Morrow (3/28/18)

Anna Fox was a child psychologist with a successful practice, happy marriage, and healthy daughter. Then she experiences a trauma and becomes agoraphobic. She hasn’t set foot out of her home for nearly a year and passes her time by watching old black and white films and spying on her neighbors through the windows with her camera. One day, she witnesses a murder and has a nervous breakdown when she tries to go outside to help. The cops don’t believe her – they think she’s just a drunk, which is true but doesn’t change what she saw – and her estranged husband doesn’t believe her, either. Anna has to convince everyone she is not insane or hallucinating in order to discover who the killer is and stop them before they come after her.

This book? Was WAY over-hyped. The writing style was all right and the basic premise of the story was theoretically interesting. The problem is that there was absolutely no suspense or nerve-wracking moments. The plot was entirely predictable and stereotypical, including Anna’s trauma and the identity of the killer. *Yawn*. Also, the theme of men writing women as crazy/ not believed/ let’s gaslight everything is so fucking dull. It *might* have been slightly more interesting if the protagonist had been a man, though that still wouldn’t solve the problem of being predictable. It was a readable story and only took me a few hours to read, what with work and all, but given the lack of anything unique or really interesting, I can’t really recommend it. 

Also, not relevant to the book, but as I was writing this review, I went online to look up the author’s website. Lo and behold, I discovered that he is a pathological liar and spewed various untruths ranging from his imaginary doctorate from Oxford to brain tumors to his mother’s death. He has no doctorate from Oxford, no brain cancer (or any other kind, it seems), and his mother is alive and well. Regardless of how good his future novels might be, which I doubt, I would never read another book written by this gross individual. There are plenty of people who are actually talented and don’t have to resort to pathetic grabs for sympathy to get noticed. Vox has a really good article about this author’s multitude of deceptions.

Traitor’s Codex

42730289Traitor’s Codex (A Crispin Guest Mystery Book 11)* by Jeri Westerson (website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction – medieval, 14th century London

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 198 pp

Published by: Severn House (June 1, 2019)

**Spoilers below**

In 1394 London, Crispin Guest, self-styled Tracker of London, and his apprentice Jack Tucker are making ends meet with small jobs here and there. But their world gets turned upside down when a mysterious man drops a package in Crispin’s lap and disappears. Inside is a book written in a language Crispin has never seen. Making use of his varied contacts throughout the city, he learns that the book is written in Coptic and contains a secret gospel, the Gospel of Judas, which claims that Judas was the most beloved apostle and that salvation can come from within a person, not through Christ’s sacrifice. Knowledge of this gospel would overturn the Church’s authority and lead to a dangerous heresy, something even skeptical Crispin isn’t willing to allow. When people who have helped him start getting murdered, Crispin finds himself in the middle of a race to get the book to a safe place. In the meanwhile, someone in London is impersonating Crispin and wreaking havoc on his reputation… 

Throughout this novel, themes of loyalty, oaths taken, and reevaluating what we thought we knew take the lead. Crispin and Jack both are forced to closely analyze the things they had always taken for, well, gospel truth, and both come away from their adventure changed in some fundamental ways. I think it was a good, if hard, lesson for Crispin to learn that Jews are people who have a great deal to contribute to his society and he realises he was not very good to them, or not as good as he could have been, only after two of his Jewish friends are killed. 

The subplot with Crispin’s copycat were amusing, and the way he handled it was very inventive. I liked how it came full circle in the end and Crispin used the man the way he did. It made that subplot more meaningful, rather than just a nuisance to Crispin that had no other purpose. 

The concept of loyalty also comes into play a lot throughout this novel. It was good to see Crispin evaluating his past role in the rebellion to place John of Gaunt on the throne and to understand the impact it had on others in ways he had never considered. Assessing one’s own thoughts and actions is an indication of a well-rounded adult and Crispin has really learned a lot about himself throughout the novels, and in this one especially. 

I am looking forward to the next book in the series with both excitement and bittersweetness, knowing it will be one of the last. But also – Excalibur! YES! I am also really, really curious to see how Crispin’s tale will end. I know *I* have my own ideas and hopes for how it will end and what will become of Crispin, Jack, and the rest. But it will be interesting to see if any of those align with Westerson’s plan for our favorite intrepid, disgraced knight. 

Favorite parts (potential spoilers!):

  • The bookseller’s excitement over his books, especially the Launcelot book that was written in London but which he got in the Holy Land. Book nerds from the Middle Ages geeking out about their books is absolutely something I want more of in everything I read! 
  • When Julian of Norwich comes to visit. I loved the nod to her writing when Julian refers to Mother Jesus, and later her most famous quote: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.. As a medievalist who focuses on the writings of holy women, including Julian, I dig it when someone makes us if them in their own work. Also, the author’s note explains why Julian was in London and not in her cell, which is where she actually would have been, and does so in a way that is believable within the scope of the novel. Nicely done, my lady Westerson!

 

*Amazon affiliate link.

Rainbirds

33026565Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection/BOTM credit

Length: 322 pp

Publisher: Soho

Year: 2018

 

***Spoilers for this book are very much present in this review.***

Ren Ishida comes from Tokyo to a small, unnamed town in Japan after receiving the news that his sister, Keiko, has been murdered. Intending to go and finalize her affairs, Ren finds himself accepting a job as a teacher at her old school and living in her old apartment. He essentially takes on his sister’s old life in many ways, hoping to figure out what happened to her while bringing himself closure as well. In the process, he uncovers many surprising truths about his sister as well as his entire family.

Ehhhhh. I get that this was supposed to be written with a minimalist style, but I don’t think it was actually minimalist. I think it needed to be fleshed the fuck out. This story could have occurred anywhere – there was just no sense of place at all, nothing memorable about the town or surroundings to make it special. The characters were mostly flat and Ren, the main character, was stultifying. He has no real personality. The dialogue was mostly painful and lame throughout as well. Do people really talk like that in Japan? For example:

“So, you’re a teacher,” she said.

I nodded. “I teach English at a cram school”

“That makes sense. I was wondering what kind of work you did. You leave the apartment around noon, and return pretty late. I thought you were in retail, like me.”

“That would have made sense, too.”

“Hey, Izumi.” The young man who greeted me earlier approached us. “Sorry to cut in, but your shift is over.”

“Already?” She checked her watch. Her wrist was slim and bony. “You’re right. Thanks for letting me know.” (219)

So stilted. This sounds very similar to some dialogue my daughter wrote in one of her stories. My daughter is eight. It just goes on and on like this throughout the entire book. Nobody seemed genuine at all because of the way their dialogue was written. Maybe I just didn’t care for the style at all, but let’s move past that.

I also didn’t like – at all – how the killer’s identity was discovered but no one cared to give that information to the police, either because it wouldn’t bring back Keiko or because it would ruin the lives of the killer’s family. Um, SO? How would something someone else did have any impact on another person? *I* didn’t kill that person, my relative did it, let me help you throw their ass in the clink! Fuck reputation. Of course it doesn’t bring the murdered person back, but that’s not the point. The point is that you don’t let murderers get away with it. What the fuck? So that was deeply unsatisfying. The end, I felt, just petered out and everything went back to normal and everyone moved on and it was like nothing much happened, just a minor six-month detour in life that we can now forget about and move past. I honestly kept reading this book to see who it was because I wanted them to go to jail, but that didn’t happen and it left a bad taste. I feel like I wasted a whole weekend on this book when I could have been reading the new Guy Gavriel Kay book instead.

I want my BOTM credit back.

Black Death

44597455Black Death (A Tudor mystery featuring Christopher Marlowe)* by MJ Trow

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Netgalley

Length: 224 pp

Publisher: Severn House

Year: 2019

Robert Green and Christopher Marlowe are not friends. But when Green believes someone is trying to kill him, he sends a desperate letter to Marlowe, behind for his help. When Green is found dead, Kit believes it is his duty to discover who murdered Green and so undertakes the investigation. At the same time, stage manager Ned Sledd is wrongly taken to Bedlam in lieu of an escaped inmate just days before the opening of one of Marlowe’s new plays. Marlowe has to find the connection between all these events and help his friend. And also, the Spymaster, Robert Cecil, is taking an inordinate interest in things. And there’s plague. What could go wrong?

This is a short, quick read and like other MJ Trow novels I’ve read, it is a fun and witty tale as well. The plot is full of twists and turns and not all is as it appears. The characters, especially Marlowe, are all multidimensional. I really love the little digs at William Shakespeare (spelled here as Shaxper) throughout and the subtle shade thrown on the authorship of his works. There are many literary gems hidden in these pages that appeal to any Anglophile.

The descriptions of Elizabethan London are also vivid and gritty. So much of that period is romanticized but here, we get the more realistic portrayal of what it might have actually been like – dirty, smelly, and depressing. Oh, and don’t forget the plague!

A fun and fast read, highly recommended for any lovers of Marlowe, Shaxper :-), or Elizabethan English history in general.

All This I Will Give to You

43267676All This I Will Give to You* by Dolores Redondo (trans. Michael Meigs)

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Timothy Andres Pabon

Source: My own collection

Length: 18:10:00

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Year: 2018

Manuel Ortigosa is a writer  living in Madrid. He is hard at work on his next novel, waiting for his husband Alvaro to return from a business trip to Barcelona, when he receives word from police that Alvaro has been killed in a car accident. In Galicia, the opposite side of the country from Barcelona. Manuel travels to the town in Galicia where Alvaro died and learns that his husband was the Marquis of an ancient aristocratic family and Galicia is their ancestral home. Alvaro had hidden all this from Manuel because it seems he felt that his family was toxic and he wanted to shield Manuel from them. Upon his death, however, Manuel learns that Alvaro had saved his family from deep debt, using his own considerable funds to pay back loans and renovate the family homes, which put them in Alvaro’s personal possession, and thus he bequeathed everything to Manuel. Manuel is trying to come to terms with the fact that his husband hid who he was from him for the 15 years of their marriage, deal with the family who is indeed toxic, and find out what truly happened to Alvaro because he hadn’t died in an accident – he was murdered. Manuel meets two allies – a recently retired cop and a childhood friend of Alvaro’s, now a priest and Alvaro’s confessor – who aid him in finding out the truth.

This was a nicely complex book and I enjoyed not only the mystery plot but the travel element as well. I’ve never been to Spain, so the descriptions of the settings were some of my favorite parts, irrespective of the rest of the story.

The characters were generally complex and multifaceted. Manuel, the cop, and the priest were the ones I thought were the most multidimensional and complex people, though many of the other secondary characters, such as the family’s nanny, also seemed to have rich personalities.

There were many points of conflict – between Manuel and his husband’s family, between more progressive ideals and traditional Catholic practices, between the newer social order and the ancient traditions of nobility. There were also rivalries and intrigues between the family members as well, dark secrets and infighting. Alvaro was right – his family is toxic and he did well to keep Manuel from them. It would be exhausting to have to deal with a family like that.

I listened to this on audio book, so I have no idea how to spell some of the names, like the name of the cop friend, or the name of Alvaro’s family home. In any case, I think I would have preferred to eyeball read this one. I had picked up the audio book because it was a daily deal on Audible, but I didn’t care for the narrator. He did all right but I didn’t think he did a great job differentiating between characters. I had a hard time telling when it was supposed to be Manuel speaking and the cop, for example. His reading of women’s voices was pretty awful, though at least he didn’t make them sound like vapid cows like some male narrators do.

I loved the last line of the book SO MUCH. It is one of my favorite last lines ever now.

A Murder by Any Name

51orh40ubylA Murder by Any Name by Suzanne M. Wolfe

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Publisher/HNS

Length: 336 pp

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Year: 2018

In this series debut, Nicholas Holt, the younger son of a fictional nobleman, is a soldier as well as a spy for William Cecil. He is home in London to report on his mission from the Continent when he is instead assigned to investigate the brutal murder of Queen Elizabeth’s youngest, most innocent lady in waiting, right in the heart of the court. The murder is disturbing, not only because it strikes at a young and innocent girl, but because the body was posed in the chapel in a gruesome imitation of prayer. When a second lady in waiting is murdered shortly after the first, the stakes get even higher for Nick, whose loyalty as a member of a recusant family might be in question if he cannot discover the identity of the  murderer. The political overtones imply that someone is striking now at Elizabeth herself, implying that her reign is illegitimate and that Catholics should be ruling England. Nick relies on the help of his friends – Spanish Jewish doctors Eli and his beautiful twin sister Rivkah, his childhood friend John, and his faithful and well trained wolfhound Hector – to hone in on a cold-blooded killer who won’t stop until forced to by the Queen’s executioner.

A Murder by Any Name was a fast-paced and entertaining read. It held my attention throughout, even though I totally figured out who the killer was quite early on. I’ve read too many mysteries to be surprised by very much, and this plot was really pretty standard. However, the historical details and character development were really well done and more than made up for any lack of surprise for me. Wolfe’s attention to detail was such that I could practically smell the stench of the Thames – or Elizabeth’s breath from her black and rotting teeth! Gnarly. The atmosphere she created was rich and full of emotion, enhanced by the physical details surrounding the characters. The brittle cold, icy water, foggy riverbanks, echoing chambers or chapels, all contributed encompassing the feelings of fear and paranoia that pervaded society at the time. So often, the Jewish communities were the scapegoats for anything that went wrong, as Eli and Rivkah had painful reason to know. Skillfully, Wolfe crafted a protagonist who was sympathetic as well as empathetic while retaining historical accuracy, a tremendous balancing act in itself. Nick Holt was a product of his time, but he was not hardened or indifferent to the suffering of those beneath him on the social scale. I thought Wolfe did a fantastic job of weaving feminism into her story while still being accurate to the social mores of the time. I thought that was excellent. Nick was a wonderful, sensitive, believable character, and I wish there were more period pieces with men like him in them as opposed to sexist men who are written like barbarians simply because the author seems to think that is how it was back in the day, or maybe because an author is himself a sexist. Instead, A Murder by Any Name is the best of what happens when you get a woman to write a well-researched historical fiction. I am looking forward to reading more books in this series, and I can happily recommend this one.