2016 Vintage Mystery Challenge Wrap-up

2017 Vintage Scavenger HuntHappy New Year, everyone! I’m so excited to get started on the 2017 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, but before I do that, I should probably post my 2016 wrap-up! Here’s what I read for the 2016 challenge, along with the items I “found” for the scavenger hunt:

1. Georgette Heyer, No Wind of Blame – cigarette
2. Alan Melville, Quick Curtain – performer
3. Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison – bottle of poison
4. Christopher St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman – plane
5. Alice Tilton, Beginning with a Bash – blunt instrument
6. Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca – brunette

No Wind of BlameQuick CurtainStrong Poison
Death of an Airmanbeginning-with-a-bashenvious-casca

If you also participated in this challenge, don’t forget to add your wrap-up post here!

Mini-Reviews #11: December, part 1

I can’t believe it’s already New Year’s Eve…time to finish up those 2016 (mini) reviews before 2017 arrives!

skink-no-surrendersomebody-to-love

Carl Hiaasen, Skink: No Surrender — Teenager Richard teams up with the idiosyncratic Skink (former governor, current homeless eco-warrior) to find Richard’s missing cousin Malley. There’s no particular mystery about what happened to her, but the fun is in the journey, as rule-follower Richard finds his worldview enlarged by Skink’s more reckless lifestyle. Overall, while this isn’t really my kind of book, I did enjoy it and may read more by the author. I believe Skink is a recurring character in Hiaasen’s novels, and I’d like to know more of his backstory.

Kristan Higgins, Somebody to Love — Another light, charming contemporary romance from Kristan Higgins. Although most of her books are not serialized, this one borrows the location (and a few characters) from Catch of the Day, and it also features the couple from The Next Best Thing. Having read those two books, I enjoyed seeing how the various fictional worlds overlapped. That said, I don’t think you’d miss anything important if you haven’t read the other two books. I always enjoy Higgins’ books, but this one isn’t destined to be one of my favorites.

old-dogsenvious-casca

Donna Moore, Old Dogs — If you enjoy heist movies, you should definitely check out this book, which involves two priceless historical artifacts: solid gold dog statues. Main characters Letty and Dora are aging ex-hookers who hope to enjoy a lavish retirement by stealing the dogs from a museum exhibit. The trouble is, they’re not the only ones after the dogs…. While I didn’t find this one laugh-out-loud funny, it does include plenty of entertaining mishaps, mistaken identities, and mad schemes of vengeance. Definitely worth reading if the word “caper” appeals to you!

Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca — So far, I’ve found Heyer’s mysteries to be a bit hit-or-miss, but I think this is her best one yet! It’s an English country house murder set at Christmas. Of course, there’s a big family party, and of course, everyone has a reason to wish the estate’s owner dead. The novel is very well plotted, and the solution to the mystery is (in my opinion) utterly convincing. Even if you’ve tried another Heyer mystery and didn’t particularly like it, I’d urge you to give this one a try!

Mini-Reviews #5: Summer Reading

All right, time to post some mini-reviews of books I read way back in July! Will I ever catch up with all my reviews? Only time will tell, so stay tuned! 🙂

Death of an AirmanSong for Summer, A

Christopher St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman — In this mystery centered around an English aviation club, one of its best flyers perishes in a tragic plane crash. Most people assume it’s an accident, but the victim was a first-class pilot, and the inquest revealed nothing wrong with the plane. A few of the club members suggest suicide, but a visiting Australian bishop suspects murder. When the police get involved, they realize the victim’s death may be connected to a much larger criminal organization. I liked this mystery well enough, but I think the strength was definitely in the plot rather than in the characters. For example, for the first several chapters, it looks like the Australian bishop is going to be the sleuth, but suddenly everything switches to the police inspector’s point of view. Still, this was a fun variation on the “impossible crime” mystery with a truly ingenious solution.

Eva Ibbotson, A Song for Summer — Ibbotson’s novels are the ultimate comfort reads! I’d never reread this one before, and I think it’s because the plot moves a bit more slowly than in Ibbotson’s other novels, and the atmosphere is bleaker. It’s still a lovely book, but I definitely find myself returning to A Countess Below Stairs and The Morning Gift much more often.

It Happened One WeddingSpear of Summer Grass, ACrown's Game, The

Julie James, It Happened One Wedding — Julie James was my first contemporary romance author, and she pretty much single-handedly convinced me that not all romance novels are poorly written trash. This is another fun, banter-filled romance between hedge fund manager (?) Sidney and FBI agent Vaughn. They initially dislike each other but are forced to play nice when her sister and his brother get engaged. I think we all know where this is going.

Deanna Raybourn, A Spear of Summer Grass — After scandalizing English society with her outrageous behavior, Delilah Drummond is packed off to British East Africa so she won’t further damage her family’s reputation. Although Delilah is the consummate city girl, with her fashionable dresses and daring bob, she soon falls in love with the African landscape. She also encounters various dangers, from marauding lions to outright murder — and possibly finds love as well. I didn’t particularly like this book, and I’m not sure why. I didn’t dislike it either…I just felt indifferent to it. Delilah reminded me a lot of Phryne Fisher, but while I love Phryne, I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for Delilah. Maybe she was too similar (since I encountered Phryne first)? The romance also made me roll my eyes a bit; the hero is very much an alpha-male caveman type, and he just seemed like a stereotype to me. Overall, a “meh” read.

Evelyn Skye, The Crown’s Game — In an alternate Imperial Russia where magic exists but only a few have the power to wield it, Vika knows she is destined to become the Imperial Enchanter and take her place at the emperor’s side. But then she learns that there is another powerful enchanter in Russia — and that she must defeat him in the Crown’s Game, a magical duel in which the winner becomes Imperial Enchanter and the loser is condemned to death. Little does she know that the other enchanter is Nikolai, whose magic (and handsome face) intrigues her. As Vika and Nikolai get to know each other, they realize they don’t want the Crown’s Game to end in death. But will they be able to find a better solution? I have to admit, this book sort of lost me early on, when Vika is described as having wild red hair with a black streak down the middle. I immediately had a knee-jerk Mary Sue reaction, and I never quite warmed to Vika after that. I did end up somewhat liking the book, particularly for the Russian setting and the lovely descriptions of the magic. I also liked the fact that the stakes are real, and not everybody gets a happy ending. I’ll probably look for the sequel when it comes out. Nevertheless, I was definitely underwhelmed by this one, especially given the amount of hype I’d seen about it.

Review: Quick Curtain

Quick CurtainAlan Melville, Quick Curtain

Crowds flock to the London premiere of Douglas B. Douglas’ sensational new musical comedy, hoping to catch a glimpse of stage idols Brandon Baker and Gwen Astle. But they get even more sensation than they bargained for when leading man Baker is shot dead in the middle of Act 2. Fortunately, Inspector Wilson of Scotland Yard is in the audience, along with his son Derek, an enterprising young journalist. When another cast member is found hanged in his dressing room, the obvious conclusion is that he murdered Baker, then committed suicide. But Inspector Wilson isn’t convinced, especially when he finds a bullet hole in a place that would be impossible under that theory of the crime. He and Derek jointly investigate the mystery, which leads them to a remote village, several salacious secrets, and an altogether unexpected solution to the mystery.

I absolutely love Golden Age mysteries, and this one was a very enjoyable read, unique in its lighthearted tone and somewhat breezy attitude to police procedure. (For instance, does Inspector Wilson even have jurisdiction over the case? In this book, it doesn’t matter: he’s first on the scene, so he simply commandeers the investigation.) I loved the humorous running commentary on show business of the era; apparently the author himself had a long career in the industry. And I laughed out loud at various silly jokes, particularly an exchange where the play’s director is impatiently waiting for the doctor to examine the corpse. Finally fed up, the director asks, “Well?” “Not at all; in fact, he’s dead,” the doctor replies. The mystery plot isn’t particularly original, and a twist in the last chapter may irritate readers who want their mystery authors to play fair. But I really enjoyed the book’s tongue-in-cheek style and would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre!

Review: No Wind of Blame

No Wind of BlameGeorgette Heyer, No Wind of Blame

Plenty of people wanted to murder the shiftless, good-for-nothing Wally Carter. His rich wife, Ermyntrude, was tired of giving him money that he only drank or gambled away. Ermyntrude’s daughter, Vicky, thought her mother would be happier with another man. The slick “Prince” Alexis Varasashvili, had his eye on Ermyntrude’s fortune. And several other characters had equally strong movies for wanting Wally out of the way. But when he actually is shot, it seems that no one could possibly have fired the gun without being immediately discovered. As suspicion rests on each of the characters in turn, it’s up to Scotland Yard’s Inspector Hemingway to discover the truth. Along the way, a sordid scandal comes to light, a crooked business deal is unearthed, and romances end and begin.

I’m glad I chose this book to kick off my 2016 reading, since it contains both an ingenious mystery plot and a wonderful assortment of classic Heyer characters. I loved the histrionic Ermyntrude, who is certainly vulgar but also extremely kind-hearted. And Vicky, who delights in playing a variety of different roles (such as Sports Girl and Dutiful Daughter), annoyed me at first, but eventually I began to enjoy her antics in spite of myself. The main characters are so well-drawn that the mystery is a bit sidelined, but I do think the solution is very clever. I guessed the murderer but not the “how” or the “why,” although Heyer plants a few clues throughout the novel. The romances are a bit undercooked, especially the one involving Wally’s ward, Mary Cliffe. I don’t know whether I’d consider it one of my favorite Heyer mysteries, but it was still a fun read and a great start to the year!