Monday, June 27, 2016

Miss Seeton Goes Gambling

Heron Carvic
Farrago (Reissue)
June 30, 2016

Miss Emily Seeton is a retired drawing teacher with a gift and a whole new career. She has been enlisted by Scotland Yard to make drawings of the faces of possible criminals in places that cameras are not feasible. This time she has been sent into a London casino, quite garishly made up and dripping with jewels. She manages to capture the crime boss' face (and win quite a lot of money), unwittingly setting off a series of events including robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder, visits to the racetrack, car chases and the vicissitudes of young lovers. Miss Seeton wanders through all of this, the perfect innocent who sets off momentous events and solves crimes, all unaware.

Odds on Miss Seeton is the fifth and last book written by Heron Carvic in this long-running series which was resumed by several other authors. Even though I had not read any of the Miss Seeton books it was easy to pick this one up. The series was meant  as a parody of the books of Agatha Christie, Miss Marple in particular. However, Miss Marple was extremely shrewd; Miss Seeton is decidedly not. Even though Odds on Miss Seeton was written in the mid-1970's, I saw more resemblance to the Keystone Kops and the Ealing Studio comedies of the 1940's and 1950's. Ealing could have done a lot with the material, with it's non-stop action and innocent protagonist. 

The Miss Seeton series was written as pure entertainment and greatly succeeds This is pure escape reading. I did, however, find the extensive vernacular use a little difficult at first. I thought I had a decent command of British slang but when it comes to the criminal variety I was lost at times and decided to roll with it. Thanks to Farrago and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wickedly Delicious and Original

(Flavia de Luce Mysteries #1)
Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle, Narr.
Random House Audio
April 2009

It's the summer of 1950 in England. Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is the youngest daughter of three in a motherless household headed by her ex-military father. Flavia's father might have been a martinet but instead, is emotionally distant. Flavia's two older sisters are cruel, obnoxious, and in constant warfare with her; going so far as to tell her that their mother was sorry that Flavia was born. Flavia can only believe them since she has no memory of her mother. The family finances are dire and their home, Buckshaw, is falling down. Flavia rackets about the countryside on her bicycle, almost entirely unsupervised. All this sounds depressing, but Flavia de Luce is unique; brilliant, obsessed with chemistry (especially the chemistry of poisons) and insatiably curious. 

Flavia's curiosity becomes fully engaged by a series of events at Buckshaw. First, a dead bird with a postage stamp skewered on its' beak turns up on the doorstep; then Flavia overhears an argument between her father and a stranger; finally, a dead body is discovered in the garden. When Flavia's father is arrested for murder, she throws all caution to the wind in her attempt to clear him. She uncovers a story of broken friendship, a long-ago death and philately. In the process, Flavia lands herself in real danger. There are a wealth of characters in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, all sharply drawn and often quirky. The one supporting character that I find most intriguing is Dogger, man-of-all-work at Buckshaw. Dogger served with Flavia's father in WWII but spent years as a Japanese prisoner of war. The experience left him mentally fragile, but he is an unfailing support for Flavia when no one else is.

I have been aware of the Flavia de Luce series for a long time, but just never got around to it. Now I am well and truly hooked. Flavia has one of the most original voices I have ever encountered, at once funny and heartbreaking. Jayne Entwistle brings her, and all the other characters to vivid life. I highly recommend The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

5 Stars

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Mystery with Literary Allusions

Katherine Bolger Hyde
Minotaur Books
July 12, 2016

Widowed literature professor Emily Cavanaugh is stunned to be told that she has inherited a large estate on the Oregon coast from a great aunt. She had visited her aunt often as a teenager but had little contact with her since. Events during and after that last summer made her never wish to return to Stony Beach. Since there is a large Victorian estate, a large amount of money and the ownership of a lot of property to deal with she needs to return. 

Emily discovers that there are some suspicions that her aunt's death was not the accident that the local doctor says it was. There are also people in town who want her to sell out so that development can take place. Her cousin, Brock, makes it very clear that he had expected to inherit. Not only that, there are people in the village who seem to have grudges against her aunt which Emily has inherited, along with the properties. Complicating matters further, her first love, Luke Richards, is now the local sheriff. Emily and Luke are thrown together when a murder occurs and it appears that Emily may be next.

Arsenic with Austen is the first book in a new series, Crimes with the Classics. Emily draws parallels with Persuasion by Jane Austen which help her and Luke solve the mystery, as well as rekindle their romance. Each chapter starts with a quotation from Austen's works. It's a very clever concept and well-executed throughout. Katherine Bolger Hyde certainly knows her Austen! Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Timely Reissue of a Much-Loved Series

GOODBYE, MS. CHIPS (Ellie Haskell Mysteries #13)
Dorothy Cannell
Random House Alibi
June 7, 2016

I started reading the Ellie Haskell Mysteries with the first of the series, The Thin Woman, originally published in 1984 and named in in The Favorite Mystery Novels of the Twentieth Century list. It has remained one of my favorites as well, a perfect light read. I read the entire series, I had thought, but did not remember this one. Ellie is now happily married to Ben Haskell, a successful chef and author, mother of three and an interior decorator. She doesn't remember her days at boarding school fondly but when her dear friend, Dorcas Critchley, asks for her help in recovering a stolen trophy cup, she can't refuse. Even though it means going back to St. Roberta's and confronting some of her own regrets.

The school has established a cottage for "old girls" who want to retreat for awhile and recharge after life reversals. Ellie hasn't had any reversals but it's a perfect cover for her investigation, with the help of her redoubtable and flamboyant "housekeeper" and partner in sleuthing, Mrs. Malloy. By the time the thief is uncovered, a murder has occurred and it is clear that much more than just a prank is going on at St. Roberta's. Ellie has lost none of her humor in the years since The Thin Woman, and also none of her imaginative way of looking at things. I did, however, miss Ben, so I think a series re-reading may be in order.

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Alibi for this visit with old friends. Hopefully, others will discover the charming Ellie Haskell Mysteries.

RATING- 4 Stars