Agatha Christie wrote this book after a winter in Egypt. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this past December I realized that dream. Obviously, the Egypt of Christie’s time varied in some important ways. The politics are more complicated today. But the people are still complex. Her characters focused on the Europeans on the cruise from Aswan with a complicated plot. I found the Egyptians surrounding me to far more interesting (no offense to my fellow travelers!)
Ms. Christie starts out in England where the difference between the have’s, the incredibly rich and beautiful Linnet, and the have not’s, Jackie and her fiancé Simon is blatantly obvious. The strength of Agatha Christie’s book always tracks to a significant theme. So we know something is going to happen even in the superb weather of Egypt’s winter. Hercule Poirot is never a disappointment.
As I cruised down the Nile myself, I had quite a few ideas for my second book about Sissy Holmes and her sidekick El who is full of surprises. Death could happen in the shadow of the large Ramses II statues that were moved instead of being left at the bottom of Lake Nassar when the most recent Aswan Dam was built. Or maybe in one of the many markets that are set-up outside of every tomb and temple. Thanks to Ms. Christie for the idea of mysteries taking place in unusual locations!
Mary Stojak has had a number of short stories published in anthologies, journals, and magazines. Most recently she had stories published in The Letters a Sherlockian publication, In Short, Volume III a collection of Flash Fiction, and The Raven Review. Mary received her Masters in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University and currently leads a critique group.
Telling Tales was intriguing. Once again, her title was well thought out and descriptive of how the plot evolves. Her use of characters grounded in the past and the struggle of the younger generation to make their own place in the world, could be set anywhere, but her characters have more meat on their bones than that. They are fully realized, their motives twining with the influence of their environment and their own wants and fears. Vera is even at a loss until she finds a way to get them all talking. Her use of this device reminds me of how Agatha Christie’s Poirot loved to gather all the suspects in the same room, except she does it in a more subtle way.
Wildfire, a Shetland Islands mystery, showed the effects of an outside family moving into the neighborhood, and the gossip that spread like wildfire as a result. The setting has a stronger influence in these books than her Vera novels that are so dominated by the lead character (even when we consider that her father stole endangered bird eggs and dragged her around in search of their nests!)
I did quite enjoy both books although I think I’ll take a break since I’m beginning to nitpick. Not about how she writes, but such things as using the same names frequently. Best to have some space between readings so I don’t confuse the characters. I wonder if the names she keeps using are close family members or if they are just very popular names in that generation? Something to remember in my own efforts. Both books are very good and well worth your reading time.
If you’ve only watched Vera on PBS, give yourself a treat and read the books by Ann Cleeves who created Vera. The Glass Room was great fun with the playful jabs at the house full of authors, and the more serious bits about the ups and downs of a writing career. Having gone to plenty of writing workshops, I recognized many of the character types. In the Fall, I’ll have the opportunity to take a Mystery Writers of America workshop with Miss Cleeves! We’ll see if any mysteries ensue!
In The Glass Room, Vera seemed to have a sharper edge at first than her film version, but then I reminded myself that there is always some interpretation by the director and actors. It didn’t take long to feel right at home with Vera Stanhope in the written word.
But I’ve been reading these out of order! Telling Tales, the next book I read, was published in 2005 as the second Vera mystery, seven years before The Glass Room. In this Vera Stanhope case, some of the mystery writing trophs she used, might sound very stereotypical. Yet when I was in the act of reading the book, her original way of employing them, had me fooled. A very good read, even out of order.
Ann Cleeves didn’t start with her Vera Stanhope character. She started with her Palmer Jones books in the eighties and her Inspector Ramsey books in the nineties. The Glass Room is the fifth book in the Vera Stanhope mysteries. I’ll be going back to the beginning to read all of her books in hard copy except for the ones that are offered in audio version from my library. All those tedious chores are much easier when I’m listening to a good story. And that is all possible because my car is smart enough to have Bluetooth technology which connects to the library app on my phone! My next audio book will be in the Shetland series.
Nero Wolf and Archie Goodwin are at it again in The Final Deduction. Not one of Stout’s best, a little nipping and tucking in the plot would have helped. This selection was studied by the Macabre group in Maryland that meets bi-monthly. If you know the geography of Maryland, we met at a restaurant by the water this month around Arnold. We missed our fearless leader and decided to ask for volunteers ahead of time for future meetings so no one person would be stuck leading the discussion.
I couldn’t help thinking about Sherlock Holmes when I was reminded of the selection, and there were hints about Agatha Christie in the book too. We were all a little disappointed that there weren’t enough suspects, and the red herrings weren’t followed up. Maybe he was a little rushed on this one.
The best unusual word, at least in my opinion, was thaumaturgury. It’s a good word to look up but might be hard to slip into a conversation. August’s selection will be Gambit.
The banquet was last night and we are getting close to the end. The winners were announced and there were a few surprises. Ellen Byron won contemporary for her southern mysteries. There were ties in two categories which I don’t think has happened before. Sujata Massey won in historical. Probably every book in the historical category deserved a prize.
A special shout and congratulations to Grace Topping on the publication of her first book and first Malice Panel!
The best novels, short stories, and nonfiction books have been nominated for the Agatha Awards. There are a lot of keepers such as Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan and of course Louise Penny has a book nominated too. I’m going to have a particularly hard time voting for only one Best Short Story and one Best Historical Novel. Take a look. The novels are worth picking up, and you can read the short stories at malicedomestic.org/agathas.html
Best Historical Novel
- Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen
- The Gold Pawn by LA Chandlar
- The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
- Turning the Tide by Edith Maxwell
- Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson
Best Short Story
- “All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz
- “A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins
- “Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman
- “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski
- “English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor
If you’ve been wondering about my new background, it’s a street in New Orleans where Bouchercon was held last year. Soon, I’ll be leaving for Toronto for this year’s Bouchercon!
It’s always good to have an incentive to get back on a regular reading schedule! Today’s list is a review of Reed Farrel Coleman’s Where It Hurts. I’ve been known to read a police procedural or a hardboiled mystery once in a while so I wasn’t put off by Gus Murphy, a grieving ex-cop, who’s lost his family. The formula works to make us feel his pain even though we don’t know for a long time how the instigating action, his son’s death, happened. The character is very likable and I enjoyed his friends from the sleazy hotel, The Paragon, where he now works.
His depiction of the Manhattan island setting was intriguing. Coleman obviously did his homework about the layout of the terrain and how the precincts are setup. Everything was going well until about two-thirds of the way through the book where I felt like I must have missed something. This is the point where I would have expected the logical links of the plot to fall in place. Instead, he tries out one plot ending after another. I lost count of how many times I thought the end was near. Instead, I found myself stumbling along with Coleman until we’re back to the doughnut shop. Did I say I didn’t like the ending? A very likeable lead character though, and Coleman has some obvious writing skills that could be enhanced by a later deadline. Not my pick for the Anthony.
Bouchercon is approaching which reminds me that I want to read the books nominated for awards. But first, I wanted to review Marcia Talley’s first book that won the Malice Domestic Grant in 1998. Almost two decades ago, I read this book for the first time. My mom recommended it which was always a thumbs up for me.
This book is the first Hannah Ives mystery. I remember that I wasn’t sure if I could relate to a cancer survivor. She’s had breast cancer and lived to tell the tale. Her thoughts echo the thoughts of all women about appearance, the possibility of reconstructive surgery, to the wig she buys to cover her sparse hair. She’s scarred by ordeal emotionally too which makes her very alive to the reader. Her sensitivity to the world around her and her estranged daughter make Hannah feel responsible when she finds the body of a girl in a well.
The setting is familiar to me because of friends I have who live near the Cheasapeake Bay, yet I had no trouble seeing the setting when I first read this book and was fairly new to Maryland. The sailing culture is a large part of the state which is natural when you consider how large the Bay is. Ms. Talley also uses sailing in the plot – no spoilers here! You’ll have to read the book to see how this fun and quick-moving plot works out. An enjoyable read!