A Murder of Mages by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of  classic noir, detroit
★     ★       ★     1/2

On a whim–still whittling down that TBR list, don’t you know–I picked this one out of the list. Well, actually, a whim and Carly’s review. She’s often my book-twin in the fantasy world:

What stands out here is a fantasy setting that is an action-focused plot structured like a police procedural. A woman and a man sharing lead, sharing narrative, and yet–this is remarkable here–not about to fall in love. I hope I don’t regret those words later. There are complex back stories for both characters that eventually get somewhat fleshed out. It’s one of the more interesting things about this tale, the feeling that both characters have lived through some significant personal events, particularly Satrine, the woman. And can we just talk about the woman a minute? A street rat grown up, undercover job in Intelligence, then married with kids and now a disabled husband. Seriously, sadly, unique in fantasy-land. But she is as tough as nails, and I believe both her rough beginning, passion for the job, and love for her family. I also like how feminist issues are woven into this story, although I’d probably question the realism of the character in that context. We’ll see. First book in the series and all that.

Writing is above average, with a nice balance between image, dialogue, and action. I’d say the most notable deficits seem to be in pacing/plotting. Most of the story takes place in three days, which is borderline insane. It’s not steam-punk, at this point. It feels like Victorian England-ish (I’m terrible at time periods) with a horse-cart based transportation system, a sewer system in place, and shop economies, along with various magical, secretive mage guilds.

I found the story very absorbing and finished in the same night. Granted, I wasn’t working, but it was that engaging. I’ll be picking up the next. Many thanks to Ms. Carly!

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Motor City Blue by Loren D. Estleman

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of  classic noir, detroit
★     ★     1/2

Some days, you’re just in the mood for whiskey, dying mobsters, journalists in hiding, porn shop owners, and hookers with a heart of gold, all wrapped up in a 1970’s bow, Detroit style. As Estleman admits in his 2000 ‘Afterward,’ “it has everything.” I enjoyed it, though it was the enjoyment of escape. Mostly, that is; although I was uncomfortably reminded of current times once or twice when one character talked about abandoned, burned-out homes, and Nixon was mentioned as a crook at the highest level.

Like the best classic private eyes, it’s a first person narrative, a cynical but honorable detective just trying to make rent. He’s smart, and street-wise, and has a tendency to narrate a touch more convoluted than he should.

“Wherever he was going, he was either already late or didn’t want to be. Twice more he came close to running into pedestrians as he threaded his way through the sidewalk traffic, eyes skimming the street in search of a cab, and once he was forced to do a wild Charleston to keep from falling when he slipped on an icy patch. Not that the narrow escapes made him any more cautious. If anything, he stepped up his pace as if to make up for the lost time. I followed at what the spy novelists call a discreet distance, which means I almost broke my own neck trying to keep him in sight.”

Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. I’d agree with Matthew, who felt there were a couple of creative missteps, particularly in the last third of the book. The plotting was eventually dizzying, as Estleman really did throw ‘everything’ into it. As he notes, it was his first book to sell–and perhaps only book–and I’m not sure he could have resisted. At any rate, his affection for the genre comes through, not that it’s a frantic device meant to get the reader’s attention. As fitting for the 70s, there’s quite a bit woven through about black and white politics, but not nearly as much consciousness about women’s roles or gay rights.

Overall, interesting and with more than adequate writing. I’ll likely check out another couple to see how Estleman develops.



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The Burning Soul by John Connolly

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of  mysteries, thrillers
★     ★    ★    1/2

“Now, in her office at the corner of Park and Freeport, she watched the rain trace an intricate veinery upon her window, as though the glass were an organic creation like the wing of an insect. Her mood grew heavier with each falling raindrop, with each dead leaf that drifted by, with each bare inch of branch that was newly revealed by the dying foliage. How often had she thought about leaving this state? Every fall brought the same realization: this was the best of it until March, perhaps even April. As bad as this was, with sodden leaves, and cold drizzle, and darkness in the mornings and darkness in the evenings, the winter would be so much worse. Oh, there would be moments of beauty, as when the sunlight scattered the first snows with gems, and the world in those early daylight hours would seem cleansed of its ugliness, purged of its sins, but then the filth would accrue, and the snow would blacken.”

Oh, those Irish; how they write.

The Burning Soul improves on the last book, The Whisperers, by staying focused on the mystery. Yes, I know the paragraph above implies not, but what’s worth noting is that the above is only a paragraph, not a page or two. I’ll forgive Connolly these lyrical, scene and mood-building moments (and have I not thought the very same thing every November?) because they are so lovely.

In this one, the lawyer Amy brings in Parker to dig up information on her client, and hopefully help her protect him before he’s framed for murder. He’s a most unlovely client, and we all have many misgivings, and Connolly does some very interesting things with the character. Since the narrative alternates between Parker’s first person point of view, and a more general third person limited, he cheats a little, to be sure, but I forgive him because it’s decently done.

The narrative also includes points of view from a Boston mobster underling, from Amy, and from the client. I enjoyed most of it, although the Boston perspective was a surprise, and I confess, a bit of an unwelcome one. It’s mostly because my Italian mob interests, somewhat fanned in the 1980s, were well and finished with The Sopranos. The stories dovetail nicely, although it takes time.

Interestingly, the supernatural element that had played a solid role in the previous book is largely absent here. I found myself somewhat missing it at times, but since those elements are usually used to explore morality, the absence wasn’t that notable. Dialogue with Parker, Amy, and various law officers still provide opportunities to question sins, guilt, hauntings, and truth. It’s woven well into the story and the action.

My misgivings include the mob angle; the relatively quick and violent ending, which seemed incongruous for the type of predators operating; and the retrospective nature of the final wrap-up. On the other hand, I was relieved that Connolly did not choose to dwell on the nature of the abduction and the potential torture of the missing child, as that is a deal-breaker for me. Ultimately, a solid entry in the series.

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Pulling Strings by Nick DeWolf

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of  King, thrillers
★     ★    ★   

Well, I’ve got myself in a pickle. I rarely do ARCs, and for the most part, the ones I do are for books I intend to read anyway. But every now and then, I’m tempted. Recently, I had been sent a rather awful pitch with purple and poorly chosen prose that resulted in an amusing round of mocking so perhaps I was feeling a bit guilty. Then along came Dewolf with a short little request; no elaborate, fake references to “I see you read The Stand by Stephen King so you may like my book…” Promising nothing except the first chapter, I started and enjoyed it, although I’m not sure ‘enjoyed’ is the right word for the nail-biting tension I felt while reading it. I actually made it to 30% of the book before I had to quit for the night.

So, take it from me, that’s great for an advance reader copy. ‘But, carol,’ you say, ‘what about the pickles?’ In this case, the pickle was that as I continued to read, I realized it was evolving into a Not My Type book. The beginning had a strong feel of psychological horror, with the supernatural overlay of psychic powers. However, as it progressed it escalated into thriller territory with detailed fight and chase scenes.

As anyone who follows me knows, I’m not one to give 5 star ratings lightly, and even fours are saved for the really enjoyable books. One of the reasons ARCs are tricky is the question of scale: do you rate a new-published author same as an author who has sold thousands or millions? My answer is, ‘mostly.’ I try to be slightly nicer in wording, because sometimes authors check reviews (authors: don’t do that) and when there are only ten reviews, my rating really weights more heavily than it ought, so occasionally I round up in consideration of averages.

About Pulling Strings: Dewolfe can write. I had absolutely no stutters following the prose and once or twice there was phrasing I really enjoyed. The joy and freedom Vincent had in riding his bike were wonderful. Images were often crystal clear. The same traits tended to be emphasized with the characters, which was unfortunate, because as the story progressed, more character subtly would have better set off necessary plot-related repetitionw. I liked the diversity of the characters, and I liked the determination of the main character. I did have trouble with how fast the adversary progressed in skill level, which is where the story started to loose that ‘horror’ feel and run headlong into ‘thrill-a-minute.’ Once I was past the first fight scene, we quickly headed into carol. ‘bored-by-stuff’ territory–it’s not you, Dewolfe, it’s me–I can’t stand it in movies either. Not a chase kind of person, tyvm.

So, being kind, and taking all that above stuff into consideration, it’s a three-ish star kind of read, but on my personal enjoyment scale, it was a 3.5 that finished at a 2.

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The Whisperers by John Connolly

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of  Charlie Parker
★     ★    1/2 

Can some authors be ‘too big to fail?’ Is John Connolly one of them? I’ve had my ups and down with the series to be sure, but I found that this book felt particularly disconnected, like Connolly was allowed to take everything he had written in his word processing application and turn it in, without thought to transitions, flow, plotting or narrative voice. Am I being harsh? Perhaps. But that’s the trouble with reading some really great books–of which his prior book, The Lovers, was one–and avoiding chaff. Standards get raised. My rating, therefore, reflects the book in context of both Connolly’s writing and the series; like the English teacher with almost impossible standards, I know he is capable of better. Much better.

A pity, really, because the characters in the book are primarily veterans, and it gives the reader a chance to peek at some of the issues that surround those that sign up to fight in the nation’s ongoing wars. Connolly clearly believes the issues are complicated, and I admire him for it. If only he hadn’t felt the need to info-dump the obvious in the middle of the book, losing both plot flow and narrative sense. Again, capable of much better. There’s some character viewpoint switching that almost facilitates the understanding of the issue, except it is too little, too late (mild spoiler), usually switching as part of building some sort of tension or sympathy right before the person begins to descend into a terrible situation.

So what happens here? It opens with a scene in the Iraqi Museum, where an employee is discovered by an American who helps him look for a particularly troublesome object, normally buried in the unlabeled archives. We jump to the soldier walking his dog. We jump again to Parker meeting an older man in a diner, the father of the soldier. It’s the father of the soldier. Parker then investigates an ex-soldier boyfriend of a woman who works for that older man and who seems to be able to make payments on a very expensive semi without doing much work.

There’s a few scenes that are extremely evocative. When Connolly gets it right, it’s beautiful and eerie and scary. Scenes where Parker is threatened, on the truck route and in his meeting with the drug kingpin at the ruined waterfront dive were particularly rich in imagery. The end scenes with the Collector were perhaps horrific beauty, and I had to read it twice. 

Do I recommend it? If you are a serious fan of the series, sure. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I enjoyed parts a lot, but out of most of his books so far, I felt like I was reading an inferior product. It is probably worth it for the last 25%, which contains a (spoiler of a minor character appearance) a development with The Collector, the mysterious, perhaps supernatural, killer who has been dogging Parker’s footsteps. But temper expectations.

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The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of  Bloody folk tales
★    ★    ★    1/2

Nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Shirley Jackson Awards,* The Ballad of Black Tom is a fine little novella, made accessible to horror dilettantes by the graciousness of Tor.com. Set in New York City in the 1920s, it is apparently the author’s answer to a more than vaguely racist Lovecraft classic where he lamented all those immigrants in NYC.


For me, some transitions felt extremely choppy, and now that I read an analysis of the source material, my suspicion is that LaValle was hewing too closely to the original. When I was pondering how what I would say in my review, I was thinking about characterization and trying to pinpoint if that was the problem, but it wasn’t, not really–the characters felt very real to me, well drawn at that moment in time. It’s just that their personalities as the story evolved didn’t seem congruent. The more I thought on it, the more dissatisfied I became; I believed Tom’s somewhat easy-going con-man approach, the earnestness of his father, the fanaticism of the older white dude. So it wasn’t a character creation issue. But once I understood that LaValle was trying to force his characters to follow–and yet subvert–the original, it made sense. Marlow didn’t make much sense to me at all, but I think we can lay that at Lovecraft’s feet.

Atmosphere is well-crafted. LaValle definitely captures a sense of time period, and then the eerie, especially the visits to the elderly woman, and then the bloody violence. The party of thugs didn’t make sense, but again–Lovecraft. I guess that’s the problem with parodies/spoofs/riffs: the failings of the source material.

The writing is solid and the imagery is vivid. Overall, worth reading if you are a fan of Lovecraftian horror**, or bloody folk tales, or revenge fantasies. 



*I’ll leave off mentioning the GR Choice Awards, because this site as a conglomerate has terrible taste. Not you people, of course. All the other ones who seem to think Pierce Brown is the only one in the world that can write Sci-Fi, and J.K. Rowling Fantasy. I won’t speak on Stephen King and Horror because I’m not qualified***

**Brief side rant on Lovecraft: I am annoyed by his writing. It’s cumbersome, florid, and dated. Just because there are otherworldly beings that want to eat the human race alive doesn’t mean the dude gets a whole genre in his name. Otherwise we should call everything that has monsters wanting to be men Shelley-horror. Doesn’t work, does it?

***See my The Stand: Unabridged review.

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Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of Pollyanna, sloppy stories
★    ★   

Here’s the part where you think I’m going to eat my words. But I don’t think I have to: think of it as being able to love Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back, but not Return of the Jedi. In fact, it’s nearly exactly like that.

In this book, Chambers seems to think people are basically this:


random hippie commune


Or, as in my analogy:


happy Ewok village, livin’ the simple life


But they aren’t. People are basically beings with a variety of upbringings, chemical soups, and experiences. Which often suck. Except in this book, where they don’t suck. Sure, humans might be tired, or selfish, or cranky, or scared. But they’ll feel guilty, or talk it out at the end of the day, or Do The Right Thing (TM), and basically respect each other’s right to be people. Chambers has forgotten that out in the world, there is this:



creepy molester and criminal boss


Or this:


Beings willing to capture your ass for money and sell you to the highest bidder


But hey! I’m usually an At-Least-You-Have-a-Glass-of-Water kind of person, so I could have gotten on board with a book that tended to forget about the more dysfunctional among us, if only the narrative hadn’t been so disjointed. We followed a bunch of different people doing a bunch of different things. I get the agenda: show the microcosm of experience through the individual and let it gestalt into a whole picture of how a civilization coped with diaspora. Except it doesn’t, not at all.

The story begins with a woman, Tessa, and her small child, Aya, and ends on Aya’s scream. It then switches point of view to Isabel the Archivist as she films the scene at a horrible space accident. It switches again to that of Eyas, a professional undertaker, a ceremonial and practical position, as she and her colleagues try to comprehend how they will process forty-three thousand bodies on the fragile eco-system of the space station. We jump to young Kip and his dad as they witness the arrival of the alien Aeluons who will help, then jump again to the human Sawyer, on his home installation, witnessing a group of Exodans mourning the disaster. The space accident frames our introduction to these people, but in an odd way, has very little influence on the story. I rather missed the fallout (ha!) when I realized Chambers had moved on to another story.

I really could have gotten behind the stories of these people. Not Kip, because his is the story of the adolescent-on-the-verge-of-adulthood, and I don’t care very much about that story, and Chambers brings exactly nothing new to it to keep me interested. And honestly, not so much Tessa, because Tessa’s the core of most women’s lit-fic where a woman is just raising her family the best she can while her partner is far, far away. My interest in Sawyer’s story was limited by his devastating naivete, kind of like Luke when he first goes to the space station, only Sawyer doesn’t have anyone watching out for him, so it’s pretty obvious he’s going to Fall In With Bad People. But Eyas’ involvement in ritualized death and organic reclamation is vaguely interesting, as is Isabel’s general work, along with her guest, the alien ethnologist. 

Which, now that I count, amounts to two stories that were really interesting and a couple that were vaguely interesting, and one that was annoying. The book might have still worked for me if it was told a bit more like the first one, a series of episodes, or of vinettes that gave insight into each character, but the chapters frequently ended on a sort of emotional or plot cliffhanger. It was a poor choice, because it disrupted the character build and ruined the plot build. Frequently, the ‘resolution’ would be finding out the aftermath of how something was managed, not the actual scene where it played out. Contributing further to the sense of disjointedness, Chambers also resorts to a device from the first book, and gives a sort of alien journalist-historical entry perspective at the beginning of each of the seven sections.

Ultimately, I could have gotten behind a rose-colored-glasses look at a human exodus from Earth, had it been better told, or with more interesting characters. For the most part, these were too small to tell such a big story, trying too hard to wrap the breadcrumbs of everyday life into world events. I lost interest about halfway through and resorted to skimming. I thought I’d keep it around and try giving it a more serious go, but someone else in the library system wants it, and frankly, they’re welcome to it.

I might try it again, but only in the way that I try custard every few years, to see if it is still as uninteresting as the last time I tried it. And the same way I watch Return of the Jedi, which is to say, hardly at all, and only if I’m feeling particularly completionist (I just quit after Han is freed, naturally.)



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Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Read October 2018
Recommended for fans of Murderbot, AIs
★    ★   ★    ★    

“Or Miki was a bot who had never been abused or lied to or treated with anything but indulgent kindness. It really thought its humans were its friends, because that’s how they treated it.
I signaled Miki I would be withdrawing for one minute. I needed to have an emotion in private.”

Murderbot returns for a third and autumnal installment. ‘Bot is a little more experienced, but honestly is making some familiar mistakes. As we all do, really, but I guess I expect more from a heartless killing machine. In this installment, ‘Bot is heading to a “terraforming” installation abandoned by the corporation GrayCris, hoping to find data for the fight between GrayCris and Dr. Mensah. Unfortunately, it means integrating itself into an exploration team that already includes an A.I.:

“When I called it a pet robot, I honestly thought I was exaggerating. This was going to be even more annoying than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a pretty high level of annoyance, maybe as high as 85 percent. Now I was looking at 90 percent, possibly 95 percent.”

I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that it covered much new ground. The situation gave Murderbot insight into another kind of AI-human relationship, but plotting felt fairly familiar. I’m still not convinced of ‘Bot’s logic circuits (mild mid-plot spoiler: (view spoiler) even when limited to security concerns, but do think ‘Bot is a much better A.I. than other characterizations (thinking of Sea of Rust here). I also felt questions raised about the amount of processing ‘Bot was doing at certain points. All that said, I really enjoyed it, and it held up to a second read quite well.

Wells always manages to tap me in the feels along with engaging the brain-pan. She’s good like that. I’m glad she’s finally getting some long-overdue popular recognition (as opposed to her early Hugo-Neb nominated works), because I’d like to see her financially secure enough to keep dreaming up worlds.

If you like ‘Bot and bots, you may also enjoy A Closed and Common Orbit (it really does stand alone), another A.I. book. If you think you enjoy Wells, I highly encourage you to give her other books a try, except she’s a tricky one, and many of her books are very, very different from one another from the vaguely neo-Edwardian England The Death of the Necromancer to the matriarchal fantasy world of the Raksura. Find one that appeals and go with that.




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Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Read September 2018
Recommended for 
★     ★    ★    


It’s quite, so very, very twee.

The good stuff: it is very charming. There’s a sweet romance. There are men bicycling. There are feisty ladies. And I wasn’t inclined to either fall asleep or throw the book once.

There’s a very Edwardian England feel about it, all waistcoats, dressing for dinner, carriages, and well-bred women chaperoned when with the opposite sex.  The story surrounds a man who has essentially escaped his family to live under an assumed name as a doctor. His family had wanted him to be a human battery for his sister’s powerful Storm magic, and his escape included enlisting in the ongoing war was preferable to staying at home.

“Small courses came one after another, calling for salad forks, a fish knife, red and white wineglasses. I fell into the smiling countenance I’d learned as a young man, but Grace was smooth as a still pond. My tempestuous sister had grown into a woman who steered a conversation where it pleased her, and it pleased her to bless Beauregard Veterans’ with her approval and our family’s money. Would it please her to leave me where I was, doing what good I could for the world?”

The other stuff: The least grumpy and most real of my complaints surround pacing: there was almost no suspense for the majority of this story. I enjoyed reading when I had time, but once I set it down (duty calls, after all), there would be no drive to pick it back up. I had a feeling all along I knew were it would end, so I didn’t feel particularly moved to continue. In fact, I started and finished an Agatha Christie during the same time frame.

Plot surrounds the emotionally disengaged mystery of the poisoned man, presented in the first chapter; the appearance of Tristan, also from chapter one; the vague mystery of the clouds above soldier’s heads, again, chapter one. Progress on these things is incremental. It is literally at 59% when a major plot point happens that suddenly catapults the story into actual action. The ending includes a (mild spoiler) double cross (which was expected), an explanation to a mystery that our incurious, milquetoast doctor didn’t know existed, and which will literally change the world. Along with the answers to all the other questions, which turns out to have huge implications that we didn’t really understand because no one explained this semi-magical nation to us. These mysteries all wrap in the last 50 pages, which is rather unforgivable considering how huge they are. It is also unbelievable out of tone with the with the rest of the novel. It’s like looking at a room full of Monet haystacks, and turning the corner into a Francisco Goya retrospective. Mental whiplash.

I’ll also throw out there that Doctor Miles Singer (aka Sir Christopher Miles Hensley) is absolutely the most clueless doctor in the history of doctor detecting. Although he’s apparently been a psychiatrist for thirteen years, he’s just absolutely baffled by these mysterious clouds above some of the returning soldiers’ heads and he can’t seem to make a connection between that and their illness. Initially, I put all of this down to world-building, ie., me not yet understanding some complexity. But since he (spoiler) partially solves the problem on an individual level halfway through the book, then solves it on a permanent basis while being chased by guards, that excuse didn’t work. Also, he and his friend Tristan, literally take days to discover the grocer that delivered food to a murdered man and work out how he might have been poisoned. Is this useful? Not particularly. But, yay for answers?

I eye-rolled a tad at the Prince-In-Disguise-Perfect Man, but since we’re talking twee, and since it’s super-sweet instead of dopey or sugar-overload, I’ll allow it. Yes, Tristan is perfect. Yes, it’s insta-love. Be aware.

What does all this result in? Honestly, for a first novel, it’s well done. Not on par with Hounded, by Kevin Hearne, but better than Jim Butcher’s first Dresden novel. Maybe along the lines of Greta Helsing in Strange Practice. Probably, part of the problem is me and genre incompatibility, and the only reason I didn’t call it quits was the medical mystery premise. Had Miles been, I don’t know, an accountant, solving the mystery of where missing funds were, or a legal secretary, or some such, I probably would have successfully avoided it. There was a short time where I was particularly intrigued, wondering if we were going to actually go into post-traumatic stress disorder–which I wondered if Miles had, being so determined to stay flat–but really, Polk’s treatment of it is nothing more than surface level at best. So, your mileage may vary. If you like twee, insta-love and doctors riding around on bicycles in tweed coats, this may work for you. I like my fiction a little edgier, and the bits inserted into the end definitely don’t count.

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Third Girl by Agatha Christie

Read September 2018
Recommended for fans of Christie
★     ★    ★    ★  

Imagine, if you will, being a famous female mystery author. You’ve been publishing for over forty-five years, and you’ve become more than a bit tired of your fans’ favorite detective, the egg-headed Hercule Poirot. What’s a person to do? Try a mystery where there’s no murder, only a confused, drugged twenty-something who is sure she’s committed one. Poirot, of course, has his suspicions early on:

“She is not one who can cope with difficulties. She is not one of those who can see before hand the dangers that must come. She is one of whom others will look round and say, ‘We want a victim. That one will do.'”

I enjoyed this one very much, and intend on acquiring a paper copy. It is quintessential Christie, and while somewhat rooted in the time period (those dirty, sexually ambiguous youth of the 60s is a frequent topic of conversation among the more mature), at least it wasn’t offensively so. Poirot is present from page one, and mystery writer and friend Mrs. Oliver appears not long after. I can’t help but feel as if Christie was having a bit of meta fun in this one, playing off her detective and alter ego against each other. Poirot has just finished a literary magnum opus and feels he needs a new challenge (!). When Mrs. Oliver happens to be involved in this non-mystery, she leaps in, certain ‘real’ detectives ‘do’ things. There’s also the usual commentary about authors and being famous. See what I mean by meta?

“‘Who told this girl about you, Monsieur Poirot?’
‘No one, so far as I know. Naturally, she had heard about me, no doubt.’
Mrs. Oliver thought that ‘naturally’ was not the word at all. What was natural was that Poirot himself was sure that everyone had always heard of him. Actually large numbers of people would only look at you blankly if the name of Hercule Poirot was mentioned, especially the younger generation.”

It’s definitely a slow progression, seeing how there isn’t precisely a known murder. It has the feel of a character study, a more full one than some of her early books. Reminds me perhaps, just a bit, of Crooked House, although the people here are far less eccentric. Many feel quite real, and quite of their time period. There’s more than a little indirect commentary when Poirot uses the pretense of an old war connection to meet with the elderly Sir Roderick. They engage in their remembrances, and after Poirot leaves, Sir Roderick confides to his assistant that he can’t remember who the man is at all, but humored Poirot out of the war connection. It’s a story built on those kind of moments. The build is definitely a ‘think, think,’ kind of story, not at all an action one.

For me, it was a four star read, but I read Christie for very different reasons than most. I’ve been reading her works for over three decades now, and I’m almost positive I’ve read all of the Poirot and Marple more than a few times. Still, I was never methodical about it, so I’m always kind of hoping to run into one I might have missed. Because of that, most the stories never reach the type of suspense a brand-new mystery does–not that they aren’t good, or enjoyable as one watches the intricate puzzle pieces click into place–but I don’t need to finish them. As I’ve aged, I’ve noted that Christie often relies on a cultural characterization of ‘madness’ that is more than a bit outdated. However, on reflection, I realize it’s more often a red herring, like something her readers expect her to address but she then subverts. I mostly read Christie because she’s really a marvelously intricate character writer who does so much with a few choice words. It’s a pleasure for the little grey cells.

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