I thoroughly enjoyed this novel immersed in antiquarian book lovers, collectors and sellers. It is full of details on literary research, history, and techniques for binding, conserving and protecting — all seamlessly woven into a novel about love, passion, fascination, and … finding the holy grail of Shakespeare studies — proof of authorship.
The narrative alternates between three timelines: the “present” (1995) where antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is trying pull his life back together after the untimely death of his wife; 1983 when Peter is first drawn into the heady world of rare books and meets his wife-to-be; and lastly, a progression from 1592 through the late 1800s following the path of the particular book that may be all Peter has ever hoped to find.
A warning — around page 200 the book suddenly spews up a murder for which Peter appears to be being framed — I almost stopped reading right then. I worried that the entire book would devolve into a Da Vinci Code wanna be (not a compliment!) thriller protesting our hero’s innocence. Luckily — not so. It went back to the literary mysteries with the (somehow less important) murder mystery until the loose ends all tied up and everything was solved. I can see why the murder had to happen, but not why Peter had to be “framed.” Lovett gets dinged for that.
Great levels of depth and sophistication, intricate details about the rare book trade that are somehow never dry or dull, impressive insertion of academic mysteries into story — again not a boggy moment to be found. Lovett has a brand new book about to come out, and I am signing up to read it now!
Number 17 in the ever enlightening, ever entertaining Bryant & May series. In this episode, the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) — finally tipped over the brink of being shut down permanently — is “temporarily” reinstated to solve a series of high profile murders that appear to be following the verses of the age old children’s nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons.”
As always, the writing has me in stitches as well as completely gripped by the story. We have an intriguing new character — Sydney — who when queried about whether or not she is “on the spectrum” responds that she prefers to think of herself as “over the rainbow.” When accused of being offended by something, she responds “It’s the millennials who take offense. I’m Generation Z.” I love her. Each of the misfits of the PCU is bursting with an off-canter personality of some sort, especially Arthur Bryant who dwells happily in the arcana of existential English history and alternate forms of knowledge.
And also as always, I never saw the end coming until it smacked me in the face.
This is a unique mystery series — I’ve never read another one quite like it.
Thank you to Ballantine Bantam and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on NovDecember 8th, 2020.
Writing: 3/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5
Ex-editor / publisher Susan Ryeland is living in a not-so-glorious involuntary retirement in Crete after the events of Horowitz’ Magpie Murders in which her primary author (Alan Conway) was murdered and her publishing company offices burned to the ground. Now she is approached by a pair of distraught parents who want to help find Cecily Treherne, their missing daughter. Why Susan? Because just before she went missing Cecily had called them to say that upon rereading Conway’s Atticus Pund Takes the Case, she realized that the wrong person had been jailed eight years ago for a murder taking place in the Treherne hotel. I love British murder mysteries but I am constantly amazed that anyone is left alive in the country!!
This is a murder mystery steeped in literary detection. Right in the middle of the novel we are treated to the entire text of Atticus Pünd Takes the Case to try to decipher what Cecily read. I didn’t figure it out and neither will you (let me know if I’m wrong — I’d love to hear!). The literary “clues” are deeply embedded in the book and we need the main character to unpack them for us. Luckily there are also a lot of un-literary clues that follow more traditional murder mystery lines.
Lots of fun to read, though I admit to having had a hard time keeping track of the initial characters once the book-within-a-book began (it is not short). Horowitz is an adaptable writer — he does a great job of writing in the style of another (his Sherlock Holmes stories are a case in point). The embedded Atticus Pünd book is in the style of Agatha Christie and Pünd himself is a thinly disguised Poirot (I literally just finished watching the entire David Suchet series so it was easy to spot).
Possibly a little long — especially the embedded book. I like the Horowitz style of writing better than the Agatha Christie-like writing so that also added to the feeling of wanting to get back to the main story a little faster. As always, though, the plot twists were just the right amount of convoluted and surprising. Worth reading.
Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on November 10th, 2020.
Coopers Chase retirement village — a place where everyone has done something interesting with his or her life and everyone has a story. And trouble with technology, memory, and joints. They aren’t afraid to play the dementia card if it suits them. The Thursday murder club meets every — you guessed it — Thursday to talk about cold cases to see if they can solve the cases to its own satisfaction. That is, until a real murder falls into their lap. And then another, and possibly a third.
Sounds like your everyday cozy but it isn’t at all. The ocatgenarians of the club are interesting and smart: Elizabeth, with the mysterious background and friends in high and low places who all seem to owe her favors; Ibrahim, the retired psychiatrist, who pores over the cases he failed; Ron, the former trade union leader who loves a chance to get back on the stage; and Joyce, the newest addition, who has the often underappreciated skill of bringing everyone together while remaining invisible herself.
The plot is convoluted with all sorts of intertwining stories, some with actual bearing on the case and others simply with bearing on individual lives. Great writing that had me in stitches, completely gripped, and even tearful at times.
My one word summary: fun! Make that two words: Great fun!
Thank you to Penguin Group Viking and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 22nd, 2020.
Writing: 5/5 Characters: 4.5/5 Plot: 4.5/5
Harrow is a fantastic storyteller! I very much enjoyed her The Ten Thousand Doors of January and this second novel is every bit as good if not better. Hooray!
The action takes place in New Salem in the 1890s. It’s a kind of alternate history where the women’s suffrage movement becomes entwined with a movement to bring back witching —benevolent witching being another route to to recover lost power for women in an era rife with female oppression. The three Eastwood sisters — bookish Beatrice Belladona, strong Agnes Amaranth, and wild James Juniper — are at the heart of the story as they work together with a growing sisterhood to bring back the Lost Way of Avalon.
It’s a book focused on women, with a smattering of male characters playing both utterly good and utterly evil men — a male version of the madonna / whore dichotomy. I love it! I also loved the way the embedded fairy tales — written by Charlotte Perrault and Andrea Lang — bore little resemblance to the fairy tales with wicked witches I’ve grown up with. A not so subtle reminder that history is written by the victor!
Lots of action but not the kind that bores me, plenty of interesting characters, and some fantastic malevolence captured in an evil creature of some inner complexity. She even manages to weave in lesbians and a trans person in a completely matter-of-fact manner. Lush prose suffused with magical realism and gripping from start to finish.
Great for fans of Alice Hoffman, Diane Setterfield, and Deborah Harkness.
Thank you to Redhook Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on October 13th, 2020.
I always love Gladwell’s books. This one is about the (sometimes very serious) mistakes we make when communicating with strangers. In typical Gladwell style the book blends research with anecdote with analysis of relevant high profile cases — Ana Montes, Bernie Madoff, Jerry Sandusky, Brock Turner, Amanda Knox, and some police departments. Even if you don’t recognize all of the names, you will recognize the cases.
There are three basic components to the problem. Humans are programmed to “default to the truth.” We like to believe people are telling the truth and unless the doubt becomes insurmountable, we have a tendency to rationalize away any misgivings or even the suspicions of others. Ana Montes and Bernie Madoff fall into this category. Transparency is next problem — we expect people’s internal feelings and thoughts to be reflected transparently on their faces … in the way we expect. We have been trained to expect a certain set of behaviors and expressions in someone who is sad, for example. When someone we don’t know behaves according to our expectations, we are confident we understand their inner state; when they don’t, we can easily misinterpret their behavior. Jerry Sandusky and Amanda Knox are cases that illustrate this phenomenon. Lastly, there is the concept of coupling to context. We don’t (can’t) understand the influence of context in which a stranger’s behavior is taking place. Sylvia Plath and Brock Turner (and alcohol) illustrate this point.
What to me is the most important part of the book, however, is that Gladwell points out that if we optimize for suspicion so that people like Ana Montes and Bernie Madoff don’t get away with their crimes for so long, we can tear the fabric of society apart. Most people don’t lie, commit crimes, or run around with malevolent intent, but if we treat everyone as suspicious — particularly those in a specific neighborhood, or with foreign license plates, or with a different colored skin — we run some terrible risks (which he illustrates in some very compelling ways). Now with Covid, it feels like we are viewing every other human being with suspicion.
As with all of Gladwell’s books — full of insight, completely accessible and utterly fascinating.