Showing posts with label detective. Show all posts
Showing posts with label detective. Show all posts

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Agent Amelia by Michael Broad


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a fun middle grade novel about a very capable self-starter named Amelia who gives Sherlock Holmes a run for his money with her keen observations and her deductive and inductive logic skills. This book is one of a series, and features three stand-alone stories:

  • Hypno Hounds is a story about Amelia and her mum's trip to a vacation cottage for a week. When they arrive, the locale is like a ghost town, and Amelia immediately notices that the name of the cottage has been changed to Bevil Cottage from...Devil Cottage! It turns out that baying hounds from hell supposedly haunt the area, and these are driving out the locals. Amelia's detective senses are triggered, and she goes on the hunt for clues, determined to solve this mystery, and solve it she does.
  • A new chemistry teacher trips Amelia's alarm bells with his odd habits, so the next time he leaves the classroom in the middle of the class, she sneaks out and tails him - to the supermarket. What's he up to with buying huge amounts of breakfast cereal? Well it turns out there's a sweet explanation for it that you would never guess.
  • The last story was my favorite. I thought it was hilarious. It features Turbo Teddies, which are remote-controlled roller-skating teddy-bears. They're the new hot toy craze, but when Amelia goes shopping for one, they've very mysteriously disappeared. Or have they? Just as the alarm goes up that customers are being robbed, Amelia thinks she get a glimpse of one of those teddies here and there. Now how can she get a look at the store's security cameras to see what's going on?

The stories are quite simplistic and a little improbable, but they're fun and they entertainment me. I imagine they will do a lot more for young readers, and perhaps inspire some young girls to be more aware of their surroundings, which is never a bad thing. I recommend this one.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff






Title: Picture Me Gone
Author: Meg Rosoff
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WORTHY!

Normally I detest first person PoV, especially the dystopian ones written by female writers because they seem almost uniformly lame. It’s like no female YA author has any clue how to write in third person or how to create a strong female lead, but once in a while you find a gem (even amongst the dystopian ones) which makes all the disappointing ones worth slogging through. This particular novel is worth every letter on every page. You know you have a winner when you become addicted from page one, when you glue yourself to page after page and don’t care what you blow-off in exchange for a few more minutes with this read, and when you want to go buy the hardback version and read that instead of the library copy you have in your hands.

This novel is far from dystopian in the traditional sense, but in some ways it does carry that air. It's told from the PoV of Mila, daughter of Gil and Marieka. Mila lives in London, and is all set to visit the USA with her dad. They're going to visit her dad's oldest friend, someone who once saved his life by hauling him down from a mountain when he was suffering from exposure and altitude sickness. The problem is that Matthew has disappeared, leaving behind him a wife, a young child, and a dog, as well as a notable one-of-a-kind (almost!) home. Apparently all wasn't well at home.

Mila's special skill is that she's really Sherlock Holmes. Not really, but she does have his remarkable ability to deduce whole images from the sparsest set of clues. When they arrive in New York state, and are driven (by Matthew's wife, Suzanne) to the gorgeous house in the woods, Mila immediately starts forming solid, reliable impressions based on everything and anything she observes around her - and there's a lot to see for someone who’s eyes are truly open. Mila falls in love with the baby, and with Matthew's dog. She makes very astute deductions (including at one point, that their waitress is pregnant), yet she seems completely blind to what actually happened with Matthew. Either that or Meg Rosoff is so skilled a writer that she lays down a red herring of such admirable quality that it not only seems completely edible, but looks like it's cooked to perfection, too.

Not that it’s hard to fool me (which, delightfully, is why I get so much out of so many novels!), but here's an assortment of what I thought was going on (and note that these may or may not be spoilers - I'm not telling!). At one point, I got the impression that Mila might actually not be Gil's and/or Marieka's daughter. The two are not married and she doesn’t quite feel like she fits perfectly, even though the three of them seem very happy with each other. I wasn't completely convinced that I had that right. Gabriel - the baby - seems like he may well not be Matthew's child; Suzanne appears to be having an affair. But as I said, maybe Rosoff is truly evil and is cackling to herself even now over how many readers she's gleefully led up the garden path with her 'clues'. Maybe it's Matthew who's having an affair; maybe no one is.

I'm totally in love with both Mila and her best friend Catlin - which is something of a miracle, because often in these stories I find myself liking the side-kick better than I like the main character. Mila's reminiscences of their friendship (which I don’t normally like very much in this kind of a novel) were so real and so vivid that I found myself wanting to read another novel solely about that era, not as a reminiscence, but as it was actually happening. Catlin is a Kick-A character and an amazing (if unpredictable) friend to Mila, and the two of them are completely addictive.

Rosoff has an interesting style. This is the first of hers that I've read, so I can't say if it’s typical of her, but she doesn't use quotes around speech, which is actually fine because most of the time I really didn’t notice it, but sometimes it really hit me precisely because this novel is told 1PoV, so it can lead to problems in figuring out who said what, or even if something was said as opposed to merely thought.

Though she's American-born, Rosoff lives in London, and for the most part she uses English phrases correctly, but when it came to describing an important accident, she used the term 'tractor-trailer' which is an American term. In Britain it would be known as an 'articulated lorry', or just an 'artic' for short. Unless things have changed since I lived there (which they may well have since American influences are pervasive) this jumped out at me as inauthentic.

The accident in question is the one which killed Owen, Matthew and Suzanne's son. He was sitting in the back seat, with Matthew in the front. When the lorry somehow overturned onto the car, or hit it in the rear, Owen was killed. There is a question as to why he was in the back. Was Matthew actually having an affair and his paramour was in the front of the car? There were supposedly only two people in the car, and Matthew was found blameless, but I started wondering if his girlfriend was with them that night, and if she left the scene to avoid a scandal? You'll have to read this to find out.

Mila and Gil head off northwards, to see if Matthew has retreated to his cabin up there near Lake Placid, close to the Canadian border. Why Suzanne hasn’t already checked this - or the police did on her behalf - is left unexplained. Mila is texting her mom (who is in Holland playing violin), Catlin, and also Matthew. Matthew doesn’t respond. Not at first. Then comes back the response to "Where are you?" and it’s "I'm nowhere"

And that's all you're getting! I loved this novel, and highly recommend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

The House at Satan's Elbow by John Dickson Carr





Title: The House at Satan's Elbow
Author: John Dickson Carr
Publisher: International Polygonics Press
Rating: WARTY!

After a disappointing outing with Ian Rankin's Detective Sergeant John Rebus, I decided to try a date with the master, John Dickson Carr and his hero Gideon Fell, which you have to admit is a less-then-complimentary name for someone who's supposed to succeed! Note that John Dickson Carr is the grandfather of Shelly Dickson Carr whose novel Ripped I reviewed back in April.

I've decided that July is detective month, so after this one, I'll move on to an Agatha Christie novel. At the same time, I'm watching the US version of Prime Suspect (having completed watching the original Brit series), and also catching up on Steven Moffat's Sherlock. All of these TV series have been or will be reviewed in the TV section of this blog. I'm also going to check out the Midsomer Murders!

The house at Satan's Elbow is a detective mystery novel published in 1965 - although it seems to be set earlier as I'm reading it. I don't know why it feels that way to me! Satan's Elbow is a fictional creation, but there is a village of Lepe (not quite the Lepe Beach mentioned in the novel but near enough), although there's really no obvious elbow to be found in the area. Maybe the locals are religiously superstitious and gave it the elbow? The fictional Satan's Elbow is one mile from Exbury which itself isn’t far from Beaulieu after taking a left at a crossroads so we're told. They travel a road where they can see the Isle of Wight three miles away to the right. It's all a bit confusing! But enough about that.

The novel begins with Nick Barclay inviting his old friend Garret Anderson down to Greengrove - his family's residence. There is a big fuss over old Clovis's will. Just when everything was considered settled after his death, a new will was discovered hidden inside a large tobacco jar kept on the mantle in a rarely used room in the house. The jar was accidentally broken revealing the will in front of several witnesses. The new will, un-witnessed, but hand-written by Clovis, disenfranchised Uncle Pennington in favor of Nick, but the latter is independently wealthy, and doesn't want to deprive his uncle of the family home, so he's headed down there to set things straight and evidently wants Garret along for moral support.

So far, so good. As they're about to board the train, Garret is delivered a note from a woman in one of the carriages, who turns out to be Fay Wardour, the woman with whom he had a passionate fling when in Paris, a year or so ago. They were supposed to meet up in London shortly afterwards, but she never showed, and never contacted him. Now she's evidently Uncle Pen's secretary, living at Greengrove. However, in order to protect her privacy, she begs Garrett to act like he doesn't know her and their meeting at Greengrove is their first. She plans to disembark the train at the station before the others will get off and ride the bus into Lepe Beach.

This novel continues to slightly confuse. The story is written using the language and the manners of a much earlier era. It doesn’t read like it's talking place in 1965. This, I suspect, is because Carr was born and spent his formative years in a much earlier era and either chose not to, or could not, adapt to a more modern style. He lived in England for the better part of two decades, married to an English woman. That's where he began writing, and it seems to me that he never changed his style from the behaviors, and language usage, he encountered around him in the 1930's and 1940's. Frankly this was off-putting to me to begin with, and it still keeps distracting me from the story, but it has become much more engrossing now that we're out of the tedious introduction and getting into the action.

Sir Horace Wildfare supposedly haunts Greengrove. He was an extremely stern judge in the mid 18th century, who was ridiculed for what was considered to be a miscarriage of justice when a wealthy landowner, accused of slitting the throat of a 12 year old girl he was known to have raped, was found not guilty after the judge had gone after the prosecution mercilessly. It’s rumored that he built Greengrove with bribe money from such trials. Two people have claimed to see this ghost in the same part of the house - one of them claimed it went through a wall, the other claimed it went through a locked door. These people are Mrs Tiffin, the so-so cook, and Nick's Aunt Estelle.

As the party from the train (Nick, Garret, Deidre, who picked them up, and Dawlish, the lawyer) arrives at the house, they hear a gunshot. Uncle Pen is known to carry a .22 revolver in the pocket of the old-fashioned smoking jacket he routinely wears. Rather than go in the front door, the party absurdly goes in through an open library window and by amazing coincidence, Uncle Pennington is in the library. He tells them that the 'ghost' fired a shot at him, but it was a blank, and all that hit him in his chest was a wad of paper that was in the gun - his own gun. Rather suspiciously, his young wife Deidre has disappeared and shows up again shortly thereafter claiming that once she knew her husband was OK she went to park the car properly.

Pen explains that he was sitting in the room facing the window and must have dozed off because when he was next aware, there was a figure entirely covered in black standing inside the room by the window (which was locked on the inside). The figure retrieved Pen's own gun from a pocket in the robe it wore, fired the one blank shot at his heart, then dropped the gun and retreated behind the curtains. Pen did not give chase. The figure apparently disappeared. There are no prints on the gun because the figure wore grey nylon gloves.

Doctor Fortescue supports Pen's story by relating that he observed someone dressed in black disappearing behind the high hedges in the garden outside his window. His room was directly above the library. Estelle also arrives in the room having apparently been spying on the goings-on from a small interconnecting room. So the ones who could have done this are (so far), Fay, Doctor Fortescue, Aunt Estelle, Mrs Tiffin, and either of the two maids, all of whom were so far unaccounted for in terms of my having certain knowledge of where they were.

Well I can't speak to Carr's ability to create a good crime yet, but I am beginning to think he can't create a good story. In addition to the antique language I mentioned earlier, Carr also has an annoying habit of over-describing or of describing things that really jar you out of the story and back to the realization that he's making this up as he goes along! There's a lot of annoying detail and interruptions to describe the layout of the house! For example, when Fay arrives home, she comes into the room at a point when Pennington is talking about someone being poisoned, and Fay takes a look of horror upon her face and immediately hurries away. Deidre runs after her, and Garret runs after her, using Fay's dropped cigarette case as an excuse, since he isn't supposed to know Fay.

Instead of Garret catching up to Fay and the two of them having a good conversation, Garret is stopped by Deidre, who for no reason at all describes the layout of the house, not only the room into which Fay went,. but also the rooms all around it and the rooms down the hallways at the other end of the house. That's completely absurd, and so fake! So at this point I do not rate Carr as a writer, and especially not as a writer of suspense! When Garret finally reaches Fay, she tells him a story which has effectively robbed me of my suspicions of her, gullible fool that I am! I hope this won't come back to, er, haunt me, but at this point I can't see Carr fingering her as the guilty party. Right now my money is on Fortescue.

Carr may be a great concocter of locked room mysteries, but as a writer, particularly when graded as a suspense writer, he rather sucks. At one point he has Garret address Fay as "my sugar-candy witch". That's really an Americanism, and while it may have been 'appropriate' in 1935, it seems entirely out of place in 1965 and in Britain. Worse than this, he has Nick Barclay address Deidre - his step mother - in appallingly familiar terms. I know there was no political correctness, in general, in 1965, but amongst the upper class in Britain there was a rather solidly-established political correctness after a fashion, and this particular portion of the novel seemed entirely contrary to that, to me. Unless, of course, there's something going on between the two of them! Carr's inability to make a story flow is starkly outlined later, as well.

After the discussion in Pen's study, the group splits up,with Fortescue rudely disappearing into what I shall describe as the music room, playing Gilbert and Sullivan at an anti-social volume on the "hi-fi". This seems to me to be a liberty which no one would take as a guest in a home like this. Unless, of course, Fortescue is the would-be murderer (which is still the option I'm going with at present). The loud music will obviously cover any shenanigans he wants to get up to. It’s possible that this could be a herring of a decidedly scarlet hue, of course. Garret and Fay are in discussion next door in the billiard room, Estelle is supposedly in her room, and Nick and the servants are god-knows-where. Nick shows up, concerned about Pen, who has evidently bolted both of the doors and locked both of the windows to his study.

When the party goes outside to look in through the windows, they see Pen lying on his back, the gun at his feet, and a bleeding wound in his chest. The gun was fired at point-blank range, which means he could have done it himself, or the villain could have wanted us to think that, but if there was another party to this, where did they go?

Now we come to Carr's mistake: when Fell rounds up the parties, in clich├ęd fashion, and begins to examine this disturbing attack on Pen, Garret rudely interrupts him to ask about the manuscript of Sheridan's The Rivals which is why Fell is there - to authenticate it or otherwise. Seriously? Someone has just been shot and may die and Garret's only interest is in some antiquated manuscript? That just kicked me right out of suspension of disbelief. I can only conclude that Garret is a complete jerk or that Carr is a poor writer, or both!

Another issue here is that we're not told what happened to Pen until some time later! Its like he's completely irrelevant at this point! Fortescue advocates moving him to his room without making any attempt at all to arrest the profuse bleeding, and this is what happens! No ambulance is called! Pen is stuffed away in a room upstairs and we find Fortescue there in the study with everyone else! Since Pen didn’t go to the hospital, what in god's name is going on with leaving a bleeding man unattended by a medical professional? Worse than this, Fortescue later announces that he has given a man suffering serious blood loss a sedative! This is appallingly bad writing, but as hard as it is to conceive of something worse than this, there is: Fell, supposedly a brilliant detective, allows Fortescue, who must be at least a suspect, to take charge of Pen and remove him from everyone's sight rather than leave him lying where he is until an ambulance arrives! The only one watching Pen is a constable.

Carr very loudly telegraphs things, too. For example, he has made it clear that hand-written communications play a part in this story and that Estelle can imitate handwriting - so she could have both forged Clovis's new will, for example, and/or sent the note that brought Fell to Greengrove. Indeed, it was Estelle who ensured that the new will was discovered by 'clumsily' breaking the tobacco jar in which it was hidden. So are we seeing Fortescue telegraphed as the villain of the piece, or is that merely misdirection from Estelle? Or are both of these marooned-herrings and the real perp here is Nick Barclay? Or is it his close friend - and aunt-in-law - Deidre? I don’t know!

I'm done with this one now and I have to say that it deteriorates and never really recovers. The end is a surprise (at least it was to me) but by that point I had become so tired of all the meandering that it was far more of a meh than a yeay! WARTY!


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Angel by Nicole Marrow and Laura Hayden





Title: Angel
Author: Nicole Marrow & Laura Hayden
Publisher: Tom Doherty
Rating: worthy!

I breezed through the first third of this with no effort which I took as a very positive sign! The writing is really good, and my fear that this was going to enter into a sickly embrace with instadore or paranormal trope was swept away leaving no stain on my consciousness. I still didn’t know at that point what was going on with the female protagonist, Angela, but I was on board!

It could have been a novel about an angel, exactly as its title suggests, which would be a big, fat red ink mark in this book's ledger, but it's also:

  1. Not written in the first person present tense
  2. Not a sad YA romance novel
  3. Not a bearer of a prologue
  4. Not written badly
  5. Amusing
  6. and supplied with at least three interesting characters

These are all big fat black ink marks in the ledger, so I'm really quite comfortable - moreso than I feared I would be when I saw this on the library shelf. Believe it or not, I was attracted by the color to begin with - a rich shiny orange which made it stand out from other books; it looked good enough to eat or drink! The title was a bit of a repulsive force-field, but after I read the blurb I was definitely interested, and after I read the first couple of pages, I decided that the writing made it worth a read, so it was not the problem I’d initially visualized.

That's not to say the writing is perfect; there's a handful of screw-ups, such as one p296: "Before Dante could Angela's denial..." which only goes to show that even an expensive production with a professional editor can fail and not end up as good a hob as a conscientious self-publisher can do., but here's the secret: if you write badly and tell and interesting story, you can get a lot further with me than if you write perfect prose, yet tell a crappy story! Marrow and Hayden do neither - they tread very well between those extremes, writing very well for the most part and telling a really engrossing (if somewhat oddball!) story.

I don’t know squat about either Marrow or Hayden, so I can’t say what the deal is with the process that put this novel together. I'm guessing that maybe Marrow had this idea for a novel and Hayden came on board to lend an experienced hand with the writing. Or maybe they're friends and cooked it up together. Whatever the deal is, it works well. Marrow is married to the rapper Ice-T and has been for some time (his real last name is Marrow). According to wikipedia, her nickname 'Coco' derives from her younger sister's inability to say the name 'Nicole' when they were kids! So it's not derived from the song by The Sweet, which they released well before they became big glam-rock stars in England with a string of hits.!

But I digress! The story starts on an airplane where a passenger wakes up and realizes she doesn't know where she is or even who she is. She hardly has time to contemplate this when the plane, which was gliding in for a landing, flips over and breaks up, cartwheeling along the Hudson River in New York City. The only survivors are the woman and the infant she saves from drowning. A news reporter for an online news magazine happens to be on a nearby ferry boat interviewing its captain when the plane crashes and he gets first-hand footage. He also leaps into the water to help this woman and the baby when he sees her swimming and no one else seems to be focusing on her. Later he's instrumental in getting her relocated - when the hospital wants to hastily discharge her - to a psychiatric facility. Her problem is that her memory isn’t coming back.

Her name is determined, by process of elimination, to be Angela, which is very close to the 'Angel of the Hudson' name she'd been dubbed with for saving the baby. Angela seems to have an extraordinarily disturbing effect on men. They seem to vacillate from feeling rather antagonistic towards her, to wanting to jump right into bed with her, no questions asked. A rep from the airline almost seduces her in her hospital room, but he has a heart-attack before anything can happen. Her doctor decides to discharge her as soon as he can because she seems to be a lawsuit waiting to happen, When Dante, the news reporter discovers (from his brother Bryant, who works at the hospital, that she's to be discharged with her memory still not intact, he publishes an article which effectively shames the airline into footing the bill for some extended psychiatric evaluation, to see if her amnesia can't be resolved.

The facility she's sent to is shabby and so it’s value to her as a remedy is highly questionable; clearly the airline hasn’t exactly splurged, but at least it's somewhere to stay! She's roomed with Gretchen, a rather valkeryan woman with serious anger control issues, but Angela, when threatened, uses some Judo move on her, which drops Gretchen to her knees and the two of them become friends after that.

There's one more thing. Angela hears voices which seem quite clearly to be the thoughts of people around her, but she doesn’t get all thoughts all the time. It seems to be a bit like Prince Po in Graceling: - she only seems to get thoughts which are directed specifically at her, although Angela is a bit of a Mary Sue about figuring this out. What transpires is that she finally realizes that it's men she can hear, not women at all, and on one of her daily constitutionals around the grounds, she "overhears" two night-shift orderlies plotting on raping her new roommate (Gretchen is by this point unceremoniously gone, for some reason). In order to defeat the evil orderlies, Angela switches meds on her roommate so she's the one who is out for the count; Angela then switches places with her. I think Marrow and Hayden need to learn a bit more about how medical facilities dispense medications and the power of what inappropriate dosages can do, but they've already established this place as sloppy at best, so I'm willing to let this one slide!

The two men come into her room at midnight and she's suddenly overcome by a desire to have sex with them, but then her previous plan breaks through her delirium, and she beats up on them instead. The next morning she "hears" one of them plotting revenge against, her so she checks herself out of the institution and calls Dante, using the number on the business card he left in her clothing when she was at the hospital. They meet at a diner (although on p170, Marrow mistakenly refers to it as a dinner!) in a bad part of New York City. I've been waiting for these two to get together, so let's see what happens now! I'm in a mood for blitzing this novel and getting it read today. That will also facilitate my starting on something new, which has become more imperative since it has relevance to a news item that's been on the airwaves over the last couple of days.

In the diner, they eat surprisingly tasty food, and Angela shares everything with Dante, including passing him a picture which she has drawn of the man who keeps on appearing in her nightmares - the man who killed her. Dante thinks she may be crazy - but she doesn't know this since he's the first man she cannot "hear". Despite his fear that he's as crazy as she is, he decides to help her. He starts by trying to get together a list of women from the local area who were murdered, and he narrows it down to a list of six he intends to investigate. Angela picks out a specific one: Chloe Mason and without seeing the photograph, identifies the perp, her husband Lars. Curiously, the drawing she did is never mentioned nor is it compared with the photograph. This appears to be an oversight on the part of the authors.

One evening very shortly thereafter, when Dante and Angela are in his cube discussing how to proceed, Dante's miserable boss Victor comes out. Angela hides and Dante talks with him briefly, but just when he thinks Victor is going to leave him in peace, Angela comes out of her hiding place and strikes up a conversation with him. It's during this and the events surrounding it that Dante discovers, as does Angela, that she can change her physical form, so she's not only reacting behaviorally towards fulfilling men's fantasies, she's now reacting physically and actually changing her appearance to match what they desire.

The reason she has done this in this case is that she caught Victor's thoughts - he only came to Dante's cube to plant some evidence which would destroy Dante's career and simultaneously free Victor from suspicion. Victor has been embezzling money from the news organization and was planning on disappearing to Brasil. Angela's transformation and mind-reading bring down Victor and get Dante a promotion: he now runs the news department and he hires Angela to work with him. When he and she are going through the resumes for the people he's considering hiring, Angela remarks that they're all women! Dante does indeed staff up his extraordinarily genderist news department with all female staff.

Three of these, Selma, Althea, and Ivy, are brought into Dante and Angela's confidence about what they're up to. The four of them go after Lars Mason under the pretense of giving him a freebie web spot advertising his sale of his magnificent mansion in the guise of an interview with this successful financier. He claims he's selling the house because it holds too many memories of his wife. Needless to say they bring him down, and that's how this story ends. But while there's no prologue, there is an epilogue which has Dante and Angela jetting off to LA to pursue what Angela was doing out there for two days before she flew back to NYC, became possessed by Chloe, and got into that crash. Clearly this novel was intended as the start of a series, and I have to say that I'd be up for reading a sequel, especially since we still don't know what Angela is or what happened when Chloe died and her "spirit" seemed to fly up and possess Angela's body right as her plane flew over the very place where Chloe was murdered.