Book Review: Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola Dunn

Requiem for a Mezzo is the third book in the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn.

Summary

When Daisy’s next door neighbour gives her tickets to the opera at the Albert Hall, she has her fingers crossed for a quiet evening out with the dashing Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard.  Things are going swimmingly until after the interval when one of the soloists drops dead on the stage.  And it quickly transpires that the victim, Bettina Westlea, made many enemies in the musical circle she moved in, the majority of which were with her on stage at the time of her death…

Favourite Quote

(2 favourites this time as I couldn’t choose between them!)

Tall and sleek, she wouldn’t have been caught dead in last year’s calf length hems, though her budget was as limited as Daisy’s; she made her own clothes and spent on materials and trimmings the equivalent of what Daisy put into books and gramophone records.

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‘Daisy!  Don’t tell me you’ve fallen over another dead body?’

Review

I am a big fan of Daisy Dalrymple.  I like the way perfect strangers just walk over to her and unburden themselves of all they know about whatever crime the Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher is working on, much her to bemusement and his annoyance.  How can he keep her safe if she finds herself right in the middle of everything?  It’s also nice to see how much Alec recognises and respects Daisy’s intelligence and independence.

There is such an interesting list of characters in this instalment, hailing from all corners of Europe.  This adds flavour and colour to the story, and as the majority of the cast are all singers, they have entertaining artistic temperaments too.

Light and easy to read, these books are full of the charm of the era in which they are set, though you will find mention of some of the main events that had a tremendous effect on people at the time: the First World War, the influenza epidemic and the Russian Revolution.

If you like cosy mysteries set in 1920s England, I think you will enjoy these books, as you will if you enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Phryne Fisher stories or pretty much anything written by Agatha Christie.

Rating

Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

dissolution front coverDissolution is the first book in the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.

The year is 1537.  Anne Boleyn had been beheaded eighteen months previously and England is witnessing the dissolution of the monasteries.  In charge of this great undertaking is Thomas Cromwell, the vicar-general, who is sending out commissioners across the land to help him close the religious houses.

One such commissioner is Matthew Shardlake, a London-based lawyer, who sometimes undertakes assignments for Thomas Cromwell.  When Shardlake is summoned from another case in Surrey and told to report to Cromwell’s office immediately, it can only mean that there is important work to be done.  When the lawyer has his audience with the second most powerful man in England, it is to learn that another commissioner has been murdered whilst on Cromwell’s business, at the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast.  Not only must Shardlake uncover the murderer but also complete what his predecessor failed to do: persuade the monks at Scarnsea that their monastery will close.

However, there are dark goings-on at Scarnsea.  Not only has a commissioner been murdered, but an act of sacrilege has been committed in the church.  Surrounded by suspicion and treachery, Shardlake must use all the talents he possesses – including his wits – if he, and his assistant Mark Poer are to survive the investigation.  And yet, perhaps more importantly, as the case unravels, what Shardlake witnesses firsthand may lead to him questioning that which he has firmly believe for many years…

This is a fascinating historical series set in one of the most turbulent periods of English history.  I have read the first half of the series before, but decided that I wanted to read them again before allowing myself to read the later books –  an activity that I cherish 🙂

Matthew Shardlake is a highly likeable character who, with a hunchback (which is dealt with sensitively by the author), has a lot stacked against him.  Commoners tend to fear him – contemporary superstition maintained that it was unlucky for someone to be touched by a hunchback, whilst those of his profession are jealous of his connections to Thomas Cromwell.

There were a number of characters that I found myself liking as I made my way through the book.  Brother Guy of Malton, who is a monk of Moorish descent.  Mark Poer, Shardlake’s assistant, who has currently fallen out of favour after a period of disgrace.

The story is rich and flows with ease.  The descriptions and historical detail provided by the author are vivid, bringing both the story and the time period to life.

Dissolution is a great first book for a series.  It had me hooked from the start and I’m looking forward to enjoying the other books that follow it.  I highly recommend it to those who have an interest in the period.

Book Review: 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Elspeth McGillicuddy has just completed her Christmas shopping in London and is on the train to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple.  When another train draws parallel to her own, the blind in the opposite compartment flies up and she glimpses a man strangling a woman.  Although she cannot make out all the details, she is certain of what she saw, as is Miss Marple, when she recounts her tale.

Naturally, they report what she believed she witnessed to the appropriate authorities, but when no body materialises, Miss Marple realises that she is going to have to come up with a plan to not only prove her friend was right, but to find justice for the dead woman.  Using maps and Elspeth’s recollections, Miss Marple is able to pinpoint the location of the crime.  Nearby can be found Rutherford Hall.  Logic dictates that it is there, perhaps somewhere on the edge of the vast estate, that the murdered woman’s body lies dumped and hidden.

Miss Marple calls in a favour with a friend, the much in-demand Lucy Eyelesbarrow, who gets herself employed as a sort of housekeeper by the Crackenthorpe family who live in Rutherford Hall so that she can investigate undercover.  However, things are not that easy.  The Crackenthorpes are a dysfunctional family, who lie, cheat and keep secrets.  But is there a murderer in Rutherford?  Who is the dead woman?  And, is Lucy in any danger?

This is one of my favourite Miss Marple stories (my favourite is Murder at the Vicarage).  Lucy is a very interesting character, especially, I believe, to later generations who lack first-hand experience with domestic service.

The opening chapter unveiling the crime is one of the best starts to a book.  It is remarkable and unforgettable and although we, like Elspeth McGillicuddy are witness to a murder, there is nothing anyone can do.  We are all helpless as the woman is being strangled on the other train.

The Crackenthorpe family are interesting suspects, especially as they all seem to have a secret they wish to keep hidden.  And of course, old Crackenthorpe, the miserly father of the brood, is entertaining in as much as he thinks all of his children are trying to kill him but he plans to outlive the lot of them.

A fabulous cosy mystery and a quick read whodunnit.  What’s not to like?

Book Review: Death of a Cad by M.C Beaton

death of a cad by mc beaton front coverDeath of a Cad is the second book in the Hamish Macbeth mystery series by M.C Beaton.

Captain Peter Bartlett is by general consensus, a cad.  Not many people have a good word to say about him – quite the opposite.  Except, he seems to have a way with the ladies.

So when Priscilla Halburton-Smythe returns from London, bringing her fiance, the famous playwright, Henry Withering, home to Lochdubh, her family throw a party and invite a number of people to stay at Tommel Castle.  Only Captain Peter Bartlett turns up murdered…

Can Hamish Macbeth solve the case when it seems nearly everyone at the party detested the man and had a motive to kill?

I love this cosy mystery series.  Hamish Macbeth is a fabulous character and the books are just so easy to read.  Effortless, indeed!

The Highland setting is well-described and the story’s unfolding is easy to visualise.  Lochdubh is the perfect location for a gentle, humourous piece of cosy crime fiction.

M.C. Beaton has a great way of portraying her characters; not too heavy on the detail but provides enough for the reader to get to know them.  This helps when the cast is as vast as the one we see in Death of a Cad.

This is simply a wonderful instalment in a great series.  Death of a Cad is an entertaining read, one that I would recommend to all fans of cosy mysteries.  I can’t wait to read book three in the series, Death of an Outsider.

Short Story Review: Death in the Dawntime by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

This historical whodunnit is set around 35,000 BC, amongst the ancient aboriginal peoples of Australia.

When Grabtake is impossibly murdered in a sealed cave, the young Nightwish is desperate to prove himself.  With the help of Tinglesweet, a girl the same age as Nightwish, they go about trying to solve this murder mystery, analysing the evidence and working systematically through possible theories.

But uncovering a murderer is dangerous.  If they have killed once, what’s to stop them killing again?

I loved this short story.  The language used captivated me from the start and brought to life this locked room mystery set in prehistory.  As I read it I had to pay careful attention to the words to ensure that I didn’t miss anything, but this only heightened my enjoyment of it.

The names of the characters, for example, Nightwish, Rainspeak and Toegone, not only had me concentrating on the language and words, but also on their meaning.

A great short story, one that I’m sure I will return to again.

This short story was found in The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives, ed Mike Ashley.

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

a morbid taste for bones by ellis peters front coverA Morbid Taste for Bones is The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters.

When Brother Columbanus, a young, ambitious Benedictine in the community of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury starts seeing visions of a Blessed Lady, excitement begins to spread.  The abbey is without saint or relic, something that Prior Robert Pennant has been hoping to change.  When it transpires that the vision is of Saint Winifred, buried in a supposedly forgotten corner of a Welsh churchyard, a small group head off into Wales, to the village of Gwetherin to acquire the saint’s holy bones.  Cadfael, as a native of Wales and the only fluent Welsh-speaker amongst them, is sent along to help smooth the way.

However, on reaching Gwetherin, not all the villagers are happy to relinquish their saint.  When the leading opponent is found dead, questions are raised, tensions increase and no-one, not even the holy Benedictine brothers are beyond suspicion…

As part of Historical Fiction Month I thought I would begin the re-visiting of one of my favourite book series (I will be doing the same for another, later on in the month).  Brother Cadfael has to be one of the best historical detectives, and his character is just so likeable.

The great thing about the Cadfael stories is that they make the Marches of the twelfth century accessible.  The historical detail is clear, accurate and comprehensive, enabling everyone to imagine the world of Cadfael with ease.

The characters come across as realistic and their interplay works so well.  From Brother John to Prior Robert, from Bened the smith to Sioned, the personalities of each character is distinct and consistent.

The humour found in the book, although light, is enough to offset the dark subject matter: the disinterring of the body of a young woman, and the murder of a good man.

A Morbid Taste for Bones gets better and better with each re-reading.  I am looking forward to re-reading book two in the series, One Corpse Too Many.

Short Story Review: The Flood: A Tess Darling Mini-Mystery by Tash Bell

Tess Darling, director, and cameraman and sidekick, Miller, are on their way to Barnstaple House in deepest Devon, in the middle of a storm.  The flood waters are rising.  The venue is ‘an exclusive club and holistic hotel’ that caters for celebrities.

Arriving at their destination should have raised their spirits, if only because they were sheltered from the weather, but when they meet the cast for the interviews they are supposed to be filming, spirits plummet further.

As Tess and Miller are taken on a tour of the house / hotel by owner, Noah Dellows, the power suddenly goes off and they are plunged into darkness. Noah goes off to turn on the back-up generator, but when the lights come on, one of their company is dead.  There is a killer amongst them.

But who could it be?  It soon transpires that everyone had a reason to kill, but can Tess discover who has blood on their hands?

The story line is a classic but the modern setting and cast make it a refreshing read.  I usually enjoy fast-paced stories, but I found that this one was perhaps a little too fast in places for my liking.  That being said, the characters and the witty humour found throughout made this quick, light-hearted mystery enjoyable and entertaining.

I downloaded a copy of The Flood: A Tess Darling Mini-Mystery by Tash Bell when it was available for free from Smashwords.