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.

 

A Study in Scarlet Women

35009017A Study in  Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Kate Reading

Source: my own collection

Length: 11:00:00

Publisher: Blackstone Audio

Year: 2016

A Study in Scarlet Women is, in essence, a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes story. Right there, I wanted to read it. The premise of this novel is that Charlotte Holmes is a brilliant woman and has no interest whatsoever in marriage. She’s told her father so and they made a deal – if she makes a genuine effort to find a suitor and let him make her fall in love with him and she still doesn’t want to get married, when she is 25, he will pay for the education she needs to set up shop as the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school. Charlotte holds up her end of the bargain; her father does not. So she takes matters into her own hands and has an affair with a married man, thus ruining her reputation and rendering her unfit for marriage. Yay, idiotic Victorian morality! She has no intention, either, of being imprisoned at their family’s country estate forever, so she runs away to London where she intends to support herself as a typist. Eventually she meets Mrs Watson, who hires her as her companion. Mrs Watson convinces Charlotte to take on clients as an investigator, pretending to be the sister of the bedridden man, Sherlock Holmes. The ruse works and Charlotte is able to support herself quite well by solving mysteries. She is called in on one case that strikes close to home when suspicion falls on her sister, Livia, who had publicly accused the mother of Charlotte’s lover of ruining her sister’s life, and hours later, the woman was dead. When two other people die mysteriously, Charlotte and an Inspector Treadles work together to solve the mystery and figure out how the victims were connected.

I enjoyed seeing a gender-flipped Sherlock. Charlotte is a woman who knows what she wants and makes plans to get it. She has good body image and isn’t worried about being stick thin. These are all good things about this novel. There are a lot of strong and independent women, even being set in Victorian London. I think that the mystery itself took too long to set up and get to, though, and once we got to it, was unnecessarily convoluted. It was hard to keep everyone straight and the ending was really complicated. I read a ton of mysteries and am really good at keeping track of who’s who and it still confused the hell out of me. I felt that the book’s strength was in the character development, which was excellent for nearly every character we meet. Though I didn’t feel the mystery part of the plot was terribly well done, the rest made up for it and I am still looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.

If We Were Villains

51atvtzdzkl-_aa300_If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robert Petkoff

Source: library

Length: 12:51:00

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Year: 2017

I loved this book so much I went out and bought my own copy of it, even though this is supposed to be my year of not buying anything. This was a tale of madness and obsession and ALL the Shakespeare! A group of theatre students at a prestigious college, nearing graduation, are coming unraveled and their places in their group are not as secure as they once thought. Tensions come to a head when they receive their role assignments for a major play in the fall and not all goes as they expect. Soon after, one of their troupe ends up dead and the others know more than they are willing to admit. Someone has to take the fall for what turns out to be a killing rather than an accidental death, and the resolution does indeed “make mad the guilty, and appall the free.”

There was almost nothing I didn’t love about this book. The characters were well developed and complex. They all had flaws and some were just downright nasty. Some were confusing – I do NOT understand Oliver’s motivations at all, nor why certain others remained silent. I loved all the Shakespearean quotes scattered throughout the text. I also loved the behind the scenes views of how Shakespearean actors learn how to BE Shakespearean actors. I know, for example, that they don’t actually hit each other on stage, but I never really thought about just how much choreography and practice it takes to make a slap look real, or how to do a punch differently than a slap and make that look real as well. Practicing with swords and foils and and voice coaches to learn difference of accent and dialects, all these things are just part of it. Then there is the history and social commentary woven into each play. It was a flashback to some of my better literature classes from my undergrad years. I loved it!

I listened to this as an audiobook, so it was really enriched because Robert Petkoff, the narrator, is a Shakespearean actor himself. He nailed the voice of every character in the book, giving each person richness and depth. There literally couldn’t have been a better narrator for this story short of someone like Sir Patrick Stewart, Mark Rylance, or Dame Judi Dench reading it to me. Petkoff did a superb job and I look forward to listening to more of his narration. To my delight, several of the books he reads are Star Trek, so a delightful bonus for me!

The only thing I didn’t absolutely love was sometimes I felt it got a little too long when the characters were acting the plays within the narrative of the novel. There was a lot of direct quoting from the plays themselves. Just, maybe, sum up. We’ve all read those, we don’t need a whole act copied out again. But then again, it was fun to see how these characters interpreted the plays, what differences they made to a scene that maybe I had seen some other actor do differently or might have done otherwise myself if I were an actor. The way they interact on the stage is a central component to the book. So maybe these scenes, replete with long passages of the Bard’s own words, aren’t as drawn out and long as initially thought. They are also a loving homage to the man himself. Throughout, the tension and the action and setting were all brilliant and I adored the final twist in the last lines. I simply can’t wait to read more by this very talented young author.