Book Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories is a collection of four Christmas-themed stories by P.D. James.  I have reviewed each of the four stories in turn…

Summary from Goodreads

P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a short story for Christmas, and four of the best have been drawn from the archives and published here together for the first time. From the title story about a strained country-house Christmas party, to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder, plus two cases for detective Adam Dalgliesh, these are masterfully atmospheric stories by the acknowledged ‘Queen of Crime’.

Overall Review

Expertly written, engaging and atmospheric, this collection of four short stories are a wonderful addition to a wintry reading list! Highly recommended! 4.5 / 5

A note on the cover: I loved the cover. My copy was paperback, printed on very thick cardstock. Rather wonderfully the cover was double-sided with lino print-style artwork.

Overall Rating

4.5 / 5

The Mistletoe Murder

Summary

When an RAF pilot is shot down and killed early in WWII, his widow is invited to her estranged grandmother’s for Christmas. Looking for peace and healing, she accepts, but it is not quite the holiday she hoped for.

Favourite Quote

Bereavement is like a serious illness.  One dies or one survives, and the medicine is time, not a change of scene.

(From The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James)

Review

Expertly written.  All the information needed to solve the crime was there from the beginning, yet it is not until the very end when you realise its worth. Clever and atmospheric, you could feel the tension in that country house that wartime Christmas.  Only once I finished the story did I realise how evilly the main character had been used by her own family, using her grief to their advantage. But equally, there’s no getting away from the fact the victim was the worst sort of person, and there is little sympathy to be found for such a man.

Rating

 

A Very Commonplace Murder

Summary

Ernest Gabriel takes atrip down memory lane, quite literally, by visiting his former place of work and recalls a local-interest crime story that unfolded before his very eyes…

Favourite Quote

He was surprised and a little disappointed by the court. He had expected a more imposing, more dramatic setting for justice than this modern, clean-smelling, business-like room.

(From A Very Commonplace Murder by P.D.James)

Review

Another cleverly written story, which on the face of it looks surprisingly bland, yet the mystery is actually terribly sinister. We are presented with a very interesting and remarkably accurate look into human reasoning and thought.  “I will do this because I am a good person…but…” Cue the reasons why doing the right thing is not a good idea or can negatively impact the person trying to be good.  Sigh.  But a great read!

Rating

The Boxdale Inheritance

Summary

Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh goes to visit his godfather Hubery Boxdale and is asked to look into a murder which happened in 1902…

Favourite Quote

It was only surprising that the Canon had managed to live to seventy-one in a carnivorous world in which gentleness, humility and unworldliness are hardly conducive to survival, let alone success.

(From The Boxdale Inheritance by P.D. James)

Review

I’ve neither read one of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh novels nor seen any of the TV adaptations, but I quite enjoyed this story and the next one. In The Boxdale Inheritance we are introduced to quite an eccentric cast of characters, and an interesting, engaging story. I guessed the culprit but it was an entertaining read to see if I was right.

Rating

The Twelve Clues of Christmas

Summary

Adam Dalgliesh is on his way to his Aunt’s Suffolk coast home for Christmas, when, a few miles from his destination, a stranger steps out in front of his car.  He needs the police…his uncle has committed suicide.

Favourite Quote

They took it remarkably calmly. Anyone would think people in this county kill themselves routinely at Christmas.

(From The Twelve Clues of Christmas by P.D. James)

Review

This story felt a little but more of a lighter read than the others as Dalgliesh tried to make the crime appear a little more seasonal, fitting the case into “The Twelve Clues of Christmas”.  And it was this that I felt was the real star of the story, perhaps even more so than the crime and its solution.  An enjoyable read, and the humorous tone was certainly appreciated by this reader!

Rating

Book Review: Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fun, solid wintry classic crime read, perfect for reading over the Christmas holiday. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

This classic Christmas mystery is republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

Favourite Quote

“Miss Noyes,” replied Lydia, “suppose this house belonged to you, and you returned to it after the world’s worst snowstorm, would you rather find your larder empty or seven skeletons?…”

(From Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon, page 79)

Review

I read this story for Festive Reads Fortnight 2019 but never got around to posting the review, so I waited a whole year so that I could as I thought it would seem quite out of season to do anything else.

Mystery in White is a fun, entertaining read.  Now, if you think from the summary or even the book cover, which is just so lovely, that this story is like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is not. The stories are very much different.

The premise is very good and the isolated location and set up of what’s to come pulled me right into the story.  The cast of characters was interesting and varied. Each brought something different to the narrative, but that being said, I didn’t particularly warm to many of them. The setting was my favourite part of the story. Set one Christmas Eve in the 1930s, we are treated to a train ride, snowstorm and isolated country house. The story itself has a number of elements of the classic crime story: a locked room mystery, a murder, a list of suspects who hitherto have been strangers to one another, a little atmospheric spookiness…

The main problem I had with this story (and it is the same problem I had with the only other J. Jefferson Farjeon story I have read, The Z Murders – see my review here), is that the author has a habit of introducing new characters much later in the story than is often usual for a mystery.  And these characters are main characters around which the rest of the story seems to build. Most readers who enjoy mysteries, enjoy trying to solve it as the story unfolds, and that becomes a little difficult when important elements of the tale are deliberately withheld by the author.

However, it is still a fun read if you’re looking for a typically British golden age crime story, and I think it would be an entertaining choice if it was ever picked up for TV or film.

I’ve really been enjoying making a way through the British Library Crime Classics, and although Mystery in White is not my favourite out of the ones I’ve so far read, it was certainly worth a read, especially in the run up to Christmas.

Rating

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley is the fourth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Agatha Raisin is always a fun and entertaining read and this was no exception. Cosy village murder mystery at its finest! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

After six gruelling months spent in London, Agatha Raisin returns to her beloved Cotswolds village of Carsely – and to her attractive neighbour, James Lacey. True, James is less than thrilled to see her, but Agatha is soon consoled by a sensational murder.

The victim, found in a field, is hiker Jessica Tartinck, who spent her life enraging wealthy landowners by insisting on her walking club’s right to hike over their properties. And now she has been found in a cornfield, battered over the head. Agatha lures the reluctant James into helping with her investigation – and there are so many leads to follow, for Jessica’s fellow walkers seem able, even willing to commit her murder!

Favourite Quote

‘It’s not that they suffer from material poverty,’ he said. ‘It’s a poverty of the mind, wouldn’t you say?’

Deborah, head down, murmured, ‘Oh, ignore them.  They might have knives.’

(From Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley, page 103)

Review

I mentioned in one of my Bookish Reflections post earlier in the year, that I was given a bag full of books by a family member.  In it were a handful of Agatha Raisin books, some I had read, others I hadn’t.  And, recalling how I attempted to read a few of the books out of order and not enjoying the experience…and one of the books in said bag being the next one in the proper reading order, I thought I would revisit these cosy mysteries, so expect a handful in quick succession 😉

I really enjoy these books.  They don’t require too much effort on my part, and they are always entertaining.  The characters are colourful, especially Agatha with her mean streak which you can visibly see fading the longer she is in Carsely. I found this book to be the funniest I’ve read so far.  Fast-paced and witty, this is cosy village murder mystery at its finest.  I enjoy the interplay between Agatha and James, their sometimes awkward friendship reads as authentic.

There’s a bit of an extensive cast of characters in this book, mainly because the ramblers come from another Cotswold village, but it’s not so vast that you can’t keep track of who’s who.  There’s nothing overly complex here but there are plenty of suspects to ensure that the story remains engaging. Light and undemanding, this is the sort of stress-free reading I love.

I had already read the next book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage, but as soon as I finished this one, I re-read it and updated the review posted on this site.  You can find that here.  Soon I hope to get around to reading book six, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist.

Rating

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third novel by Arthur Conan Doyle to feature Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Dramatic and atmospheric, The Hound of the Baskervilles has everything an entertaining and captivating story needs: a legend, a mysterious death and a very eerie setting. Fantastic reading! 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

It was a brave man who would cross the wild Devon moorlands in darkness.

For the ancient legend of the hound of the Baskervilles had persisted in family history for generations.  Indeed it was Sir Charles’s mysterious death in the grounds of Baskerville Hall that brought Sherlock Holmes to the scene of one of his most famous and intriguing cases.

‘He was running, Watson – running desperately, running for his life, running until he burst his heart and fell dead upon his face…’ What had it been, looming through the darkness, that could have inspired such terror? A spectral hound loosed from hell; or a creature of infinite patience and cunning, with a smiling face and a murderous heart…

Favourite Quote

‘It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.’

(From The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 12)

Review

I really enjoyed The Hound of The Baskervilles, much more so than the previous one, even though I did like The Sign of Four too.  Whereas The Sign of Four was melodramatic and came across as a little outlandish in places, The Hound of The Baskervilles was dramatic and atmospheric, and completely captivating.

Our first meeting with Dr James Mortimer is strange to say the least, as during that initial conversation he tells Holmes, “I confess that I covet your skull.”. With that revelation out of the way, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson learn what has brought their guest to them that morning…a tale of a curse that has already claimed a victim.

The legend of the hound of the Baskervilles sets up this mystery very nicely. And, as much as I enjoy superstitions and the paranormal, the ending was very good, very sound, and very clever.

The descriptions of the moor and tor are certainly evocative and help create the eeriness required to make the legend ring with the sound of authenticity, and even possibility.  Will you guess the culprit before it is revealed?  Probably.  I did.  However, this is a classic, and is perhaps the most famous and well-known of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and as such, should not be missed.

Rating

Book Review: Lights, Camera…by Carolyn Keene

Lights, Camera…is the fifth book in the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series, by Carolyn Keene.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Not as good as I remember, unfortunately, but worth a read just to see how the character and style has changed for a modern audience. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

I’m a detective, not an actor, so who would think I’d be involved in a crime both offscreen and on? A producer has come to River Heights to film a re-enactment of the heist that gave our town it’s name, and he thinks I’m perfect for the part of Esther, the sister of the thieving Rackham boys. So I figure, why not give it a try?

But once the cameras start rolling, the trouble begins. Food poisoning. Broken generators. And worse! If I don’t sniff out some suspects soon, this might be my final act.

Favourite Quote

I was really fired up, because hanging out on a movie set was a far better escape from shoe shopping than I could have thought up.

(From Lights, Camera…by Carolyn Keene, page 5)

Review

I used to read the Nancy Drew books when I was younger, and when I found a copy of Lights, Camera… in a bag of books given to me by a family member, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to a childhood favourite.

However, my fond memories of the books I grew up reading were not to be reinforced by my reading of this newer take on the series.  In fact, they ensured I saw what was lacking in this more modern story.  First, let me explain what I remember of the Nancy Drew books: there was a depth to the storytelling that drew a young reader in, you wanted to know about the characters as well as the plots. And the story felt believable.

This modern Nancy Drew felt very light; there was little depth to the characters and the story moved too quickly and without the necessary fluidity to pull the pace off, making it clunky.  There was plenty of action though, and I did read it to the end.  What I did find quite annoying was that almost every time an adult said to Nancy the filming has to stop because of (fill in the blank), Nancy would respond with, “but I have a friend who can do that” and save the day.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this is one of those books that works better if you’re part of the audience it is intended for…

So ultimately, I didn’t think this was as a good as I remembered, unfortunately, but it was worth a read just to see how the character and style has changed for a modern audience.  I don’t think I would be interested in reading any more, only revisiting the earlier series of the books.

Rating

2.5 / 5

Book Review: Death at Daisy’s Folly by Robin Paige

Death at Daisy’s Folly is the third book in The Victorian Mystery Series by Robin Paige.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

This series can always be relied upon for an entertaining and engaging read.  I like Kate and Charles, enjoyed the setting and was intrigued to see how the mystery unravelled.  5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

Kate and Sir Charles gather with a host of memorable guests at the Warwicks’ Eaton Lodge for an English country-house weekend.  Meet Albert Edward, Prince of Wales; his ‘darling Daisy’, the countess of Warwick; their friends – and their enemies.

Someone has murdered a stableboy and the Prince, smarting over a recent gambling expose and seeking to avoid scandal, directs Sir Charles to find the killer. But the stakes go up when a guest is shot with the Countess’ gun.

Favourite Quote

They had made the ten-mile run from Braintree to the Lodge in one hour and fifteen minutes, at almost twice the legal maximum speed of four miles an hour and sans the obligatory man with a red flag that – ridiculously – was still supposed to precede them by twenty yards.

(From Death at Daisy’s Folly by Robin Paige, page 34)

Review

This series can always be relied upon for an entertaining and engaging read.  Quick and easy to get in to, this is a cosy mystery series at its most comfy, by which I mean, it is enjoyable, immersive but doesn’t require much effort to follow along.  I can get lost in the storytelling, which for me, is what I want when I’m reading.  I don’t need a mental workout.

Although I’m only on to the third book in the series, I feel like I’ve been reading about these characters for a lot longer. I like that level of familiarity, and feel invested in what happens to them.  I love both main characters: the fiery, flame-haired, Irish-American Kate Ardleigh, and the not-your-usual-kind of posh English gentleman, Sir Charles Sheridan.  Kate’s background ensures that the rules of the British aristocracy only apply to her sometimes, whilst Charles’ penchant for science and deduction ensure that it is to him, and thus her, that those in a pickle turn to.  The romance subplot works well between the characters, and comes across as authentic.

As for the other characters…Most of the characters in this book are not likeable.  For the most part, it’s rich people doing all they can to stay rich, even when confronted with the abject poverty of the workhouse poor.  Daisy Warwick is the one exception here; she does her best to bring about change, and from reading about her in this work of fiction, I’ve been inspired to learn more about the real person.

One of the highlights of this tale is being able to see the early years of the motor car on the British roads.  Cars today are symbols of freedom and the ability to get to far away places in a fairly short amount of time.  Back when this book was set, cars were forbidden, by law, to go faster than work horses, for fear of startling the animals and causing accidents.  To think a man with a red flag had to walk in front of the car as it “motored” along, seems ridiculous to the point of redundancy. For if you could walk at the same speed as the car was allowed to go, why bother with the car?  It’s quite remarkable to think how easy it might have been for the car to have fallen by the wayside, like other inventions…How different would our world look today if it had?

The next book in the series is, Death at Devil’s Bridge, and my copy is sitting happily in my TBR pile.  Hopefully it won’t take me too long to get to it…

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #6 in the list: a book with a girl’s name in the title.

Book Review: The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

The Railway Detective is the first book in the series of the same name by Edward Marston.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting and well-described setting.  A promising first book in a series. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

London 1851. With the opening of the Great Exhibition at hand, interest is mounting in the engineering triumphs of the railways, but not everyone feels like celebrating… In an audacious attack, the London to Birmingham mail train is robbed and derailed, causing many casualties. Planned with military precision, this crime proves a challenge to Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck who fights to untangle a web of murder, blackmail and destruction. As Colbeck closes in on the criminal masterminds, events take an unexpected turn when the beautiful Madeleine, daughter of the injured train driver, becomes a pawn in the criminals’ game. With time running out, good and evil, new and old, battle against each other. But will the long arm of the law have speed on its side? The Railway Detective is an action-packed dip into murky 1850s London. Full of historical detail, unexpected twists and memorable characters, this is a mystery that will surprise you at every turn.

Favourite Quote

My favourite quote from this book was a description of the slum area of London known as Devil’s Acre:

Colbeck knew the area only too well. It was a favoured haunt of the criminal fraternity and notorious for its brothels and gambling dens…No decent or sensible man would even dare to venture into such a hazardous district.

(From The Railway Detective by Edward Marston, page 57)

Review

Having already read the first few instalments in Edward Marston’s Elizabethan Bracewell Mysteries, which I love, I thought I would give another one of his popular historical series a try.  With an interest in the Victorian period and having already enjoyed a number of stories based on or around trains (Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington and Carola Dunn’s Murder on The Flying Scotsman), I had high hopes for The Railway Detective

I enjoyed the setting of this story, but unfortunately I didn’t really connect with the characters.  Most of them came across as excessively aggressive and antagonistic, which I accept, given the areas these characters worked in and came from, is probably historically accurate, but it didn’t make for particularly enjoyable reading.  And then there were the characters who had particular personality traits which were continually stressed, in very clear and basic terms. I’m not sure the points needed to be laboured as hard as they were.  A reader can often work out which of the characters are bad and which are good.

The setting on the other hand, was well-described, vivid, and most importantly of all authentic.  I could see the slums of Devil’s Acre, the orderliness of the police headquarters, the grand country estate, the trains, and perhaps my favourite of the settings, the Crystal Palace…

Was The Railway Detective really a mystery book though?  I didn’t find it particularly mysterious as we are told pretty early on in the story who is behind the crime.  Instead the narrative focuses on watching the case unfold.  The reader gets to witness the detectives chase down the criminals, with the only questions being whether they will get away and what cost they might inflict upon the other characters before the book ends.

One of my favourite passages of the story was when Detective Inspector Colbeck’s copy of Bradshaw’s got a mention.

So, this was a bit of mixed review, and if I’m being honest, I was expecting a bit more from The Railway Detective.  I’ve not yet warmed to the characters but the series does hold some promise that it will improve the further we get into it, I think.  I will give the series another book or two to convince me whether I should stick with it or put it aside for good.

Rating

Book Review: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of Four is the second novel by Arthur Conan Doyle to feature Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review

Entertaining and melodramatic, this short mystery has a lot going on and culminates with an epic night-time boat chase down The Thames.  Not to be missed!  4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

‘I abhor the dull routine of existence…That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created, for I am the only one in the world.’

‘The only unofficial detective?’ I said, raising my eyebrows.

‘The only unofficial consulting detective,’ he answered.  ‘I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.’

At first the interruption to the boredom of Sherlock Holmes seems to have little to do with crime. But there is mystery enough to intrigue the jaded detective. A governess, whose father vanished ten years ago and who has been receiving the gift of a valuable peal sent annually and anonymously, now needs an escort to meet her unknown benefactor.

But before the night has ended, an impossible murder is discovered. Although Watson is bemused by love, Holmes is helped by Toby the tracker dog and the Baker Street Irregulars to hunt down a brutal killer and interpret the Sign of Four…

Favourite Quote

I narrowed it down to two:

The first links in with the excerpt from the summary above:

‘My mind,’ he said, ‘rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.  But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.’

(The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 8)

The second quote focuses on Holmes not being impressed with Watson’s attempt to record the Jefferson Hope case, which Watson calls, ‘A Study in Scarlet‘:

‘Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.

(The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 9)

Review

The Sign of Four has a lot going on in it, for a short book.  There is, of course, the mystery, which leads to a locked-room mystery, which leads to a period of tracking using the remarkable talents of a half-spaniel half-lurcher named Toby, there’s a little bit of a love story, a treasure hunt and a fantastically dramatic action-adventure style ending, which is memorable to say the least.

We really get to see into the person behind the Sherlock Holmes character in this instalment. Yes, he has a brilliant mind and he can do what others can’t, but we are shown in a very clear and obvious way that just because he is a genius, he doesn’t have to be good or likeable and usually he is quite the opposite. He can be rude and dismissive, he takes drugs simply because he is mentally bored and yet we love him and the stories he is in.

And there is something quite extraordinarily melodramatic about this storyline…it’s entertaining, it’s gripping, but there is an element of it being too much, too over-the-top, too outlandish.  And given how short the book is – my copy is only 138 pages long –  it is more of a novella than a full length novel.

There are two standout highlights of this story for me.  The first is that Dr Watson meets Mary and falls in love.  Aww.  The second is the night-time boat chase down The Thames, which is worthy of any modern-day action film.

Did I enjoy it as much as the previous novel, A Study in Scarlet, or more than some of the short stories?  No, I don’t think I did, but it was certainly entertaining and well worth a read.

Rating

Short Story Review: The Adventure of the Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle

* This review may contain spoilers *

The Adventure of The Illustrious Client is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Arthur Conan Doyle.  It is the first story in the collection, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A good, gripping story with an interesting mystery and unexpected ending. 4 / 5

Summary

Sir James Damery seeks out Sherlock Holmes on behalf of an un-named yet illustrious client.  The case is a delicate one.  Violet de Merville has fallen madly in love with Baron Gruner, a highly intelligent man, believed by both Sir James and Sherlock Holmes to be a murderer.  Violet is determined to marry the Baron, no matter what anyone says about him and even after the man himself apparently lays bare his chequered past.  Can anything be done to make Violet realise what she refuses to see?

Favourite Quote

I couldn’t decide between these two:

‘Johnson is on the prowl,’ said he. ‘He may pick up some garbage in the darker recesses of the underworld for it is down there, amid the black roots of crime, that we must hunt for this man’s secrets.’

(From The Adventure of The Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 15)

*

‘Woman’s heart and mind are insoluble puzzles to the male. Murder might be condoned or explained, and yet some smaller offence might rankle.’

(From The Adventure of The Illustrious Client by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 16)

Review

I am slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories, although not in chronological order.  Currently, I am moving back and forth between the short story collections, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, and having just recently finished the short novel A Study in Scarlet (you can read my review here), plan to start the next Sherlock novel, The Sign of Four, soon.

The Adventure of The Illustrious Client was a good story.  The storytelling ensured the tale was gripping and the mystery itself was certainly an interesting one.  As for the ending, it was certainly unexpected.

Out of all the Sherlock Holmes stories I have read so far, this one, I think, has the most interesting and memorable characters.

Kitty Winters was probably chief amongst them.  I would love to have known more of her back story.  One of my favourite descriptions from this story is that of her and Violet being like fire and ice.

The Baron made for a very engaging antagonist; a dangerous rogue but well-educated, with a niche interest in Chinese pottery.  He was also very brazen and sure of himself, admitting to Sherlock that yes, it’s all true but there is nothing you can do about it!

An entertaining read, indeed!

Rating

Book Review: Birds of A Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Birds of a Feather is book 2 in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting mystery and an interesting setting, but not my favourite cosy mystery series…at least not yet.  The series has potential and I’m hoping I’ll warm to Maisie the more I read. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

London, 1929. Joseph Waite is a man who knows what he wants. With his Havana cigars and Savile Row suits, he is one of Britain’s wealthiest men. And the last thing he needs is a scandal. When his unmarried daughter runs away from home, he is determined to keep the case away from the police and the newspapers. So he turns to a woman renowned for her discretion and investigative powers – the extraordinary Maisie Dobbs.

Maisie soon discovers that there are many reasons why Charlotte Waite might have left home, and instinctively feels the woman is in safe hands. Yet the investigator suddenly finds herself confronting a murder scene.

Favourite Quote

“Simply and only, simply and only. Everything and nothing are simple, as you know.”

(From Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear, page 128)

Review

I read the first book in this series last year and was, quite disappointedly, underwhelmed by it.  I had seen so many great reviews of the series, and the main character, Maisie Dobbs, seems to be a fairly popular heroine, and I hoped the stories would pick up.

So how did I find this next book in the series?  On the one hand, it was better than the first, the major point in its favour being it lacked the huge info dump in the middle.  And my favourite character has to be Billy Beale – I think he’s great, genuine, authentic; a character that comes across as real and believable.

But…I don’t like Maisie.  She comes across as cold, judgemental, interfering and sometimes a little manipulative, even though we are repeatedly told she is lonely, kind, intelligent and compassionate. It also didn’t help that she all of a sudden appears to possess psychic and clairsentient abilities, something I did not remember at all from the first book.  I recalled there was a bit about eastern mysticism and meditation, but that’s all.  And I’m still not a fan of Maurice Blanche – he’s too wonderful and perfect as a mentor. A Know It All, who Maisie relies upon too much.

The storyline itself was good and interesting, though I deduced the culprit pretty early on but it was entertaining to see how they might be apprehended.  Also the narrative contained enough historical description to bring the period and the setting to life, which was one of the highlights of the book.

The big question is, will I read anymore from this series? My answer would probably be no if I hadn’t already purchased a good number of books in the series.  My philosophy at present is, I’ve already bought them so I might as well read them, whilst living in hope of being able to find what so many others seem to enjoy in them.  And I really do want to enjoy them.  They are set in a period I enjoy reading about, with a main character whose adventures I would usually find entertaining.  Fingers crossed, things get better with book 3…

This was such a hard book to rate.  I gave Maisie Dobbs 3.5 stars (you can find my review here), which is more than I thought, and not being able to decide whether it would be 2 or 3 this time round, I opted for half way.  It seemed fair.

Rating

2.5 / 5