Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

the daughter of time by josephine teyPublication year: 1951
Genre: Mystery
Time and place: a detective in the ’50s UK reads about Richard III’s times
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence: Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling.
Verdict: I learned some history and I love that.

Summary
Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is in the hospital, stuck in bed after an accident. He’s bored, as he has nothing to do, so he decides he will try to solve one of the history’s unsolved mysteries, to pass the time. Captivated by a portrait of Richard III, and the way his physiognomy did not match the awful things that people believed about him, Grant wants to find out all about the man, and perhaps find out who killed the princes in the tower in the process. He sets to work, with the aid of Brent Carradine, a young American who works at the British Museum. Bit by bit, Grant’s theory takes shape, a confirmation of his first impression, as in his version of events Richard is a loved and just king, a victim, not a perpetrator.

General impression
I started reading this book around the time Richard III’s remains were found. People here and there were promoting the idea that Richard may not have been a villain after all, and cited this book as support. My curiosity was then aroused, and I picked up the book with no idea what to expect (I had a vague idea that it must be something with a female time traveler, because of the title). To my (slight) disappointment, there was no time travel at all involved, just a modern-day inquest in things that have happened centuries ago.

A lot of the book is tell, not show, as very little happens in modern times — the bulk of the book consists in the information Alan Grant and his research assistant dig up and interpret. It reads like a non-fiction book seen through the conversation of fictional characters, characters that are there only as a means to present the results of the author’s research to the reader. An interesting approach, though it did feel at times like something was missing. I did however love the novelty of having a detective solve a crime that has been committed many centuries ago :)

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History-wise I found the book very interesting, although I am not sure how much of it is actually non-fiction and how much of the information Brent digs up has been simply created by the author — let’s not forget that the book is marketed as fiction. The conclusion Grant arrives at is not shared by many historians today (Alison Weir for example heartily opposes it), so the chain of events must have been less clear in reality than Ms. Tey wants her readers to think1.

Be that as it may, I have found very interesting the arguments that the author brings forth to support her case. The three that had me almost convinced were:
a) Richard had no political reason to want his nephews dead, as he was already a legitimate king, so they were no threat (plus there were other people with similar claims to the throne as the two princes, and nothing happened to anyone else);
b) Henry had a lot to gain from exposing Richard’s crime, but he never did;
c) Henry’s claim to the throne was lesser than the princes’, plus it is his modus operandi to have his rivals killed.

Sure, none of these is ironclad, but together with others they do make quite a bit of sense. There was at least one moment when the book had me wondering how come this is still a mystery, since the author has gathered up so many proofs to support her theory :)

What I liked most
The “Tonypandy” bits — during the course of their research Alan and Brent come across various pieces of history that were widely believed to be true, but in fact were anything but. Such as the Tonypandy Riots:

“If you go to South Wales you will hear that, in 1910, the Government used troops to shoot down Welsh miners who were striking for their rights. You’ll probably hear that Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary at the time, was responsible. South Wales, you will be told, will never forget Tonypandy!”

Carradine had dropped his flippant air.

“And it wasn’t a bit like that?”

“The actual facts are these. The rougher section of the Rhondda valley crowd had got quite out of hand. Shops were being looted and property destroyed. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan sent a request to the House Office for troops to protect the lieges. If a Chief Constable thinks a situation serious enough to ask for the help of the military a Home Secretary has very little choice in the matter. But Churchill was so horrified at the possibility of the troops coming face to face with a crowd of rioters and having to fire on them, that he stopped the movement of the troops and sent instead a body of plain, solid Metropolitan Police, armed with nothing but their rolled-up mackintoshes. The troops were kept in reserve, and all contact with the rioters was made by unarmed London police. The only bloodshed in the whole affair was a bloody nose or two. The Home Secretary was severely criticised in the House of Commons incidentally for his ‘unprecedented intervention.’ That was Tonypandy. That is the shooting down by troops that Wales will never forget.”

Or this story:

Scotland has large monuments to two women martyrs drowned for their faith, in spite of the fact that they weren’t drowned at all and neither was a martyr anyway. They were convicted of treason—fifth column work for the projected invasion from Holland, I think. Anyhow on a purely civil charge. They were reprieved on their own petition by the Privy Council, and the reprieve is in the Privy Council Register to this day. This, of course, hasn’t daunted the Scottish collectors of martyrs, and the tale of their sad end, complete with heart-rending dialogue, is to be found in every Scottish bookcase. Entirely different dialogue in each collection. And the gravestone of one of the women, in Wigtown churchyard, reads:

Murdered for owning Christ supreme Head of his Church, and no more crime But her not owning Prelacy And not abjuring Presbytry Within the sea tied to a stake She suffered for Christ Jesus sake.

They are even a subject for fine Presbyterian sermons, I understand—though on that point I speak from hearsay. And tourists come and shake their heads over the monuments with their moving inscriptions, and a very profitable time is had by all.

I find it terribly fascinating how flimsy history (and by extension, what we take as truth) actually is.

What I liked least
There’s nothing that has truly bothered me (although admittedly I was a bit confused about Martha’s place in the story at first, and I would have liked a bit more details about her and her relationship with Grant; I get that this is book 5 in a series so many people already know this, but a few words allowing me, the newcomer, to catch up wouldn’t have hurt).

Thoughts on the title
Brilliant :) But also very much the opposite of obvious. I had no idea what it referred to until I read about it on Wikipedia: it comes from a quotation of Sir Francis Bacon: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.“. Which, as I said, I happen to find it brilliantly relates to the idea behind the book — that the truth has been found now, after all these centuries, despite what the then-authorities (the Tudors) have tried to pass on as facts. Put in another way, time has brought on the discovery of truth, not the authorities. A perfect match between the book and the quote the title is from.

Thoughts on the ending
It would have been a silly murder, that murder of the boy Princes; and Richard was a remarkably able man. It was base beyond description; and he was a man of great integrity. It was callous; and he was noted for his warmheartedness.

Predictably enough, shortly before he gets discharged from the hospital Grant reaches the conclusion that Richard is in fact innocent of the crime everyone thinks he committed. I liked that Brent plans to even write a book about it, to clean up the dead king’s name; all the book would have seemed futile otherwise, if Grant and Brent had spent all that time doing research and then had kept the solution for themselves.

Recommend it to?
Everyone with a penchant for medieval history or classic detective novels :)

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  1. It is worth noting, however, that there is at least one fact that Ms. Tey got right in the book — “According to Sir Cuthbert, the hunchback is a myth. So is the withered arm. It appears that he had no visible deformity. At least none that mattered. His left shoulder was lower than his right, that was all.“. While everyone knows this now, after the remains were found, keep in mind that the book was written more than half a century ago. []
Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Time and place: May 1983; Santa Teresa, California
First sentence:Three things occurred on or about May 5, which is not only Cinco de Mayo in California, but Happy Birthday to me.
Verdict: The second half was better than the first half hinted at :)

Summary
Kinsey’s life is getting back to normal, as her little flat has just been rebuilt (after being blown up in the previous book). She has taken on a new case, to find someone’s elderly mother. Sounds like a cut-and-dried job, and, sure enough, locating the old lady is a breeze. Kinsey is puzzled to see her acting as if she’s frightened of going to Santa Teresa — but then things start happening and the mystery is forgotten.

One of the guys that Kinsey helped put behind bars wants revenge, so he paid a guy to kill her. While Kinsey did take the threat seriously, it wasn’t until an actual attempt was made on her life that she internalized the danger she was in. She hired herself a bodyguard, one Robert Dietz, recommended to her by a common acquaintance. Dietz takes his mission seriously, but will Kinsey’s independent nature allow him to protect her?

General impression
It’s been a while since I last read a book in the alphabet series so I figured I should correct that. This felt a bit different from the other books I read so far (A through F). Up until now every book was centered around an investigation, and the reader got to follow Kinsey around, talking to people, gathering clues, and little by little putting together the big picture. In this book, Kinsey is more preoccupied with preserving her own life, and she only realizes that there may be something worth investigating somewhere in the last third of the pages. The book even felt romance-y at times (what with a hero and a heroine stuck with one another for awhile), and I enjoyed that, especially as Kinsey, jaded about love, marriage and men, is not the classical romance heroine type.

Characters
After six books there’s not much more I can say about Kinsey that I have not said before :) As usually, I love her no-nonsense attitude, her courage, the way she has no patience for weakness (not even for her own), and not in the least her brain, the way the little cogs and wheels whir and theories get born.

A character newly introduced in this book is Robert Dietz, whom I certainly hope I will see again as he was quite interesting to me. An investigator bored with his job, he enthusiastically took up the job of protecting Kinsey, working for free simply because it was a break in his routine. I imagine he is quite well off financially, as he drives a red Porsche (which in theory is a cliche but in this case it just seemed like his kind of car). He is a man of action, restless and fidgety when there is nothing to be done in the immediate period of time. He is the independent kind, the kind that just goes out there and takes what he wants, making Kinsey’s former(?) love interest — the one who keeps running back to his wife whenever she calls, despite the fact that she left him more than once — fade in comparison.

A quote about him, albeit a bit large:

Dietz put a cigarette between his lips and flicked open a Zippo. He hesitated, glancing over at me.

“My smoking going to bother you?”

I thought about being polite, but it didn’t make much sense. What’s communication for if it isn’t to convey the truth?

“Probably,” I said.

He lowered the window on his side and tossed the lighter out, flipped the cigarette out after it, and followed both with the pack of Winstons from his shirt pocket. I stared at him, laughing uncomfortably.

“What are you doing?”

“I quit smoking.”

“Just like that?”

He said, “I can do anything.”

Can one not like someone with such a can-do attitude? :)

What I liked most
I enjoyed seeing a softer side of Kinsey. Up to now she always knew what she was doing, she was always in control. This time however she is scared enough to allow herself a moment of letting another guide her, and I liked that, because it humanized her. She herself is taken by surprise by it, and perhaps a little wistful — in her own words, “I wasn’t famous for letting guys tell me what to do and I was hoping I wouldn’t get used to it.“. She has been on her own for so long that she has almost forgotten how it is to have someone to take care of her, and she is not sure how to deal with the current situation. And, though she realizes their arrangement is only temporary, she falls for him, harder than I thought her capable of (“I didn’t want to see Dietz die, didn’t think I could bear it, didn’t want to live myself if it came down to that.” <--- this doesn't sound like our jaded, distant, emotionally unavailable Kinsey, does it?)

What I liked least
Ah, this is most likely a personal pet peeve, but I could not believe that neither Kinsey nor Dietz knew anything about Anne Bronte and Agnes Grey. I know that neither of them have gone to college and all, but still, the Brontes are such household names, are they not?

Thoughts on the title
While I totally love the idea of the alphabet titles, this particular one is not among my favorites, as it is too generic (a ‘gumshoe’ is a detective — I initially thought is was a sort of rubber-soled shoe, the kind that nurses wear, and I was happy about it because the mystery includes an old lady in a nursing home). I like better the ones where the title references the content at least vaguely (B Is For Burglar had burglary in it, F Is For Fugitive had a fugitive, and so on).

Thoughts on the ending
The last fifth or so of the book flew by quite fast, and I enjoyed that.
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Recommend it to?
Fans of the series, most of all. I thought it was more character-driven than plot-driven, and I am not sure how people who are only interested by the mystery side would see it.

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This book is a sequel to:
A Is For Alibi | B Is For Burglar | C Is For Corpse | D Is For Deadbeat | E Is For Evidence | F Is For Fugitive

The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Billy Webb, Mona Minot
Time and place:2002; Claxton, Massachusetts
First sentence:I lifted my head when I heard her knocking.
Verdict: Interesting but not outstandingly so.

Summary:
Billy, fresh out of college, has landed his first job: he works at Samuelson, a prestigious dictionary editing firm. The office seems such a quiet, quaint place — yet buried in their files lie hints that some of them may have committed murder.

General impression
The whole idea behind it was great in theory. People who little by little find puzzle pieces that they need to put together to discover a big picture is one of my favorite tropes. Unfortunately everything felt too easy in this book, and I ended up a tad disappointed.

Setting
Most of the story takes place in the Samuelson offices (Samuelson being ‘the oldest and most revered name in American dictionaries‘). For a new word to be acknowledged as official (and thus added to the lexicon), it has to have appeared in enough places so that its meaning can be inferred without a doubt. Which is why the people at Samuelson spend their days reading newly written stuff, collecting citations where any new words appear. They have a huge file of these things, going back decades, and is in this trove of wordsmithing that the excerpts from The Broken Teaglass lie innocuously among others.

Characters
To put it bluntly, the characters are one of my sources of disappointment with the book. For starters, I cannot pinpoint exactly why but I didn’t really like Mona. Perhaps because I found her reactions blown out of proportion now and then? Or maybe just because I didn’t like the way she talked sometimes.

As for Billy, he is a very nice guy, the kind that as a child was always assigned with the task of making other children feel at ease. He is intelligent, reliable, likes words well enough to work with them all day, has majored in philosophy, he loves to cook — what’s there not to like, right? And yet there were times I couldn’t quite ‘get’ him, couldn’t understand his motivations (his lonely car rides at night for example) so I wasn’t particularly fond of him either.
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I did like some of the supporting cast though. Billy’s father for example, a former dentist who went to culinary school and now is very much into deserts. Or Dan, the senior editor of the office where Billy and Mona work. He was such a quiet, dignified guy, with an understated sense of humor and never prone to exaggerations (unlike Mona, yuck). He may well be my favorite character, I think.

A thing that I am not sure what to make of is how characters share the same obsessions.
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)
While there’s nothing wrong with the idea of more than one person having thought of an idea, or concept, each doing so independently of the others, I am not sure whether I like it or not in this particular book. It made everyone’s personalities simply overlap, and, since they don’t otherwise have much in common, nor is the similarity relevant, or even noted, I do think the book could have done without it.

Relationships
Interesting. Different than expected, in a good way :)
Although the two main characters happen to be a guy and a gal, both single, they defeat cliches and are not attracted to one another. They’re just friends, that’s all (the girl is attracted to someone else), and I think it was a welcome departure from the usual trope (and yes, I know that now and then Billy contemplates the possibility of his getting together with Mona, but it never gets more serious than that).

Plot
I have very much loved the starting point of the plot, finding a mysterious quote and trying to find some more, in order to piece out a mystery. Thing is, in this type of stories most of the fun isn’t finding out who did it (although or course this matters too), but the hunt for clues in itself. And it is here that the book fails the most: everything is way, way too easy for our characters; they end up knowing exactly where to search for the quotes, and then it all becomes a matter of time. As time is of no consequence (they have all the time in the world, there is nothing rushing their search) there ends up being no suspense at all. The reader knows that if he/she waits patiently the mystery will be revealed. And… it depends whether this is your cup of tea or not (I would have preferred to find it a wilder ride).

Thoughts on the title
The title mirrors the one of the mysterious book that sits at the center of the novel and holds the key to Billy and Mona’s search. Yes, I would say it’s a good one. Especially as the said teaglass (is that even a word? :) ) plays an important role in the events of the mysterious book too :)

Thoughts on the ending
Somewhat disappointing.
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What I liked most
Everything related to lexicography, and words, and getting to find out more about dictionaries and people who make them. The author herself has worked at Merriam-Webster, and it shows. I am very glad I read this book because of that, as it showed me the inner workings of an industry I have never actually thought about.

For example, this:

Turns out dictionary editors rarely start with “A.” Who knew? It’s because supposedly reviewers usually just lazily look up “A” words when they’re assessing the quality of a reference book, and you don’t want reviewers looking only at the work produced while your lexicographers are still a little rusty.

What I liked least
I’m having trouble deciding whether it was the lack of suspense or the lack of satisfying ending. Either way, I get that this is the author’s first book so I am not judging her harshly.

A quote I liked

It was pretty naive, this notion of hers—that a disaster needs to announce itself in grand fashion, with a deafening rumble or a crack in the earth. I knew from experience that she was wrong. A disaster can just as easily be a slow, silent rot. A disaster can creep in without much fanfare, and quietly stay.

Recommend it to?
People who like reading stories about words :)
This isn’t a bad book at all, just a rather unsuspenseful one; if you don’t need a dose of suspense in your books, by all means give it a try :)

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F Is For Fugitive by Sue Grafton

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Time and place: Fresh Beach, California; 1983
First sentence:The Ocean Street Motel in Floral Beach, California, is located, oddly enough, on Ocean Street, a stone’s throw from the sea wall that slants ten feet down toward the Pacific.

Summary:Every violent death represents the climax of one story and an introduction to its sequel.

Seventeen years before, the body of Jean Timberlake has been found on the beach. At the time, her ex-boyfriend, Bailey, pleaded guilty and went to jail, only to escape one year after and disappear into the world.

Bailey’s luck lasted for almost two decades, only to give way when he was arrested due to a confusion (he happened to use the same name as a wanted criminal!). He was let go then once the mistake was found, but one of the detectives got suspicious and run a search for his fingerprints. His past discovered, Bailey ended up in jail again. However he now denies his initial acceptance of guilt, and his father wants the matter cleared up once and for all.

Thus enters Kinsey Millhone.

I am somewhat of a fan of Kinsey Millhone’s. I really like her no-nonsense persona (I am more of a scaredy mouse type, and it was probably natural for me to be attracted to a type so much different than my own) and her courage in getting involved with all sort of people in all sort of situations. As usual, in this book we get to find out some more details about her, a few more bits of the puzzle that she is. Some of them amusing (such as the discovery that she’s, in her own words, “a bad-ass private eye who swoons in the same room with a needle“), some of them rather touching (more of her feelings regarding the loss of her parents at a tender age).

As for the other characters, we don’t get to know any of them that well, due to their paths crossing Kinsey only when needed, and that for a very short while. However, Kinsey is very observant and a good judge of character, so we do get to know at least some parts of what makes some of them tick. Taking for example Bailey’s mother, Oribelle, a former beauty but now ravaged by diabetes, heroically trying not to complain and yet complaining all day; Bailey’s father, the type used to ordering people around, now trying to get to grips with the fact that he has little more to live and his strength is seeping day by day; the reverend of the Baptist church, acting like a pious person when in fact he isn’t precisely that behind closed doors; and many more. Bailey himself is an interesting character, albeit somewhat mysterious (and very good at fending for himself when needed); overall, the reader ends up rooting for him (a good thing too, as it was kinda obvious he didn’t do it because… well, that’s how it is in this kind of books :P ).

There’s not much I can say about the plot, since the Alphabet books are more or less all similar in that department: Kinsey is on the case, Kinsey starts asking questions, Kinsey is getting closer to solving the case, Kinsey is (usually) threatened by the criminal, Kinsey (sometimes) gets hurt in the altercation, the case is nevertheless solved, the end. The charm is nevertheless in the details, and these, of course, are not to be disclosed so as not to spoil the story.

One of the things I find amusing with the books in these series is that, while the things in the first one happened in about the same year (1982 I think) the book was published, the distance between reality and fiction slowly increases. For example this one was released in 1985 but the things in it happen in 1983. That is of course easily explained by the fact that in real life the author releases about one book per year, whereas in Kinsey’s timeline only a few months pass between cases. I am however looking forward to the more recent books (with an even larger margin), to see whether cellphones or the Internet (or other such novelties) are going to make an impromptu appearance. :)

Speaking of the series, so far I enjoyed all the books, and I am impressed by the fact that so far the author never repeated herself (in terms of characters and their actions). However I did notice a pattern throughout: whenever Kinsey has to investigate something that happened years before, whoever did the deed (that cannot be pinned on him/her, else it would have been so all those years ago) gets nervous and starts killing more people. This I think is in order to satisfy the reader’s sense of justice: as the guilty part cannot be convicted, for various reasons, of the old deed, there are these new deeds so the said guilty part will be convicted nevertheless.

A favorite quote:

I thought about my papa. I was five when he left me . . . five when he went away. [...] When had it dawned on me that he was gone for good? When had it dawned on Ann that Royce was never going to come through? And what of Jean Timberlake? None of us had survived the wounds our fathers inflicted all those years ago. Did he love us? How would we ever know? He was gone and he’d never again be what he was to us in all his haunting perfection. If love is what injures us, how can we heal?

Thoughts on the ending: This was one of those books where everyone comes under suspicion at one time or another, making it impossible (at least for me) to guess who the killer was. To my delight chagrin, the one person who did it was the one person I didn’t suspect at all. Yay! :)

What I liked most: The idea of having it all happen in such a small (eighteen blocks) town. For some reason it made it all seem both more intimate and also more creepy (since everyone knows everyone it means that everyone has talked to and smiled at the killer plenty of times). The part regarding the “Family Crisis Squad” was also quite fun to imagine :)

On the kitchen counter, I could see a tuna casserole with crushed potato chips on top, a ground beef and noodle bake, and two Jell-O molds (one cherry with fruit cocktail, one lime with grated carrots), which Ann asked me to refrigerate. It had only been an hour and a half since [event]. I didn’t think gelatin set up that fast, but these Christian ladies probably knew tricks with ice cubes that would render salads and desserts in record time for just such occasions. I pictured a section in the ladies’ auxiliary church cookbook for Sudden Death Quick Snacks… using ingredients one could keep on the pantry shelf in the event of tragedy

What I liked least: I loved the book up until one of the last paragraphs, where there was something I didn’t quite understand. The real criminal was (of course) apprehended, but no proofs were found regarding Jean’s murder. So the police couldn’t actually prove that the said criminal was the one who killed Jean, yet Bailey was set free — why? How come, since no one has proven him not guilty of the said murder?

Recommend it to? Everyone who loves mysteries :)

This book is a sequel to:
A Is For Alibi
B Is For Burglar
C Is For Corpse
D Is For Deadbeat
E Is For Evidence

Next in the same series:
G Is For Gumshoe

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins


There is a special magic in number three, isn’t it? Welcome to the third stop of the Wilkie Collins tour! It is the first tour on The Classics Circuit and it plans to follow Mr. Collins as he visits a few of the book blogs in the blogosphere, in hopes of making new acquaintances. Feel free to visit the previous stops (1, 2) and the full list of the stops planned for the future. And, of course, enjoy this one!


Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Miss Rachel Verinder, Mr. Franklin Blake; Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, Sergeant Cuff
Time and place: 1799, India; 1848 – 1849, London and Yorkshire
First sentence:I address these lines—written in India—to my relatives in England.

Summary: The Moonstone is a large diamond, originally stolen from an Indian shrine and said to be cursed. Brought in England by a soldier of noble birth, John Herncastle, it is bequeathed by him to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her 18th birthday. When she receives it she is childishly delighted by it — but the precious stone disappears over night and no one knows what to make of the disappearance. A famous detective, Sergent Cuff, is summoned from London, but his enquiries meet with resistance in the area he would have least expected, as Miss Rachel herself seems to be opposing the inquest with all her might.

Ever since first opening the book I was amused at the shape it way written in: letters and descriptions of events by various characters, in order to record a certain story “in the interest of truth“. The very same way The Woman in White was written, and, as I liked that book, I readily prepared to like this one in turn. At first it started out a bit slowly, but once things got rolling I could hardly put it down.

Were I to name a most amusing narrator, I would certainly choose Miss Drusilla Clack, a single woman dedicated to her faith and her charitable causes, so much so that she became a caricature of such a character instead of a multifaceted human being. Among her quirks we should note the fact that she considered sympathy for the sick a very un-Christian reaction and takes pride in giving tracts to people because that’s her idea of doing them good. A funny scene involving her is when she tries to force Lady Verinder into salvation by hiding books on religious topics all around the Lady’s house (and then she goes home so convinced she did good that she feels like a young girl again).

Another narrator that I have liked was Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, Lady Verinder’s house stewart. Despite his age (somewhere around seventy and eighty) he takes pride in doing his job well and he treats the people under him as kindly as they deserve. In the course of the book he has quite a few fits of the “detective fever”, as he calls it, but always in the company of someone better acquainted with the situation and more likely to make discoveries (it can be said that Betteredge would make a wonderful Watson while never being capable of being a Sherlock Holmes himself). Although I have mostly liked him he did have at times moments of feeling superior to other people (usually women), and then I usually got annoyed at him. But then I remembered his most interesting quirk (he believed the truth, the life and everything was to be found in the pages of Robinson Crusoe) and it made me smile again.

Here’s one of his “superior” quotes, just to form an idea:

“[...] it is a maxim of mine that men (being superior creatures) are bound to improve women—if they can. When a woman wants me to do anything (my daughter, or not, it doesn’t matter), I always insist on knowing why. The oftener you make them rummage their own minds for a reason, the more manageable you will find them in all the relations of life. It isn’t their fault (poor wretches!) that they act first and think afterwards; it’s the fault of the fools who humour them.”

Ugh.

Looking back I realize I have only mentioned things I have found amusing in the book. Don’t expect this to be a funny volume though — on the contrary, it is a very serious one as the happiness of the members of a whole family is at stake. Not any members of any family, but a cast of characters that the reader grows to like and root for, and as such their happiness becomes important (or at least that’s what happened with me). The atmosphere of the book is also rather gloomy, what with everyone suspecting everyone else of theft, with even a few deaths and illnesses thrown into the bargain. It is not a happy reading in any way, but it’s definitely a captivating one.

Here is a quote from the book’s preface by the author, illustrating an interesting side of the book:

“In some of my former novels, the object proposed has been to trace the influence of circumstances upon character. In the present story I have reversed the process. The attempt made here is to trace the influence of character on circumstances. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl, supplies the foundation on which I have built this book.”

The young girl in question is, of course, Miss Verinder. She is a complex character, young, pretty, gentle, kind hearted, but with an easily excited temper. A temper that made me actually dislike her at first (way too overexcited by everything around her for my taste), but as the story progresses her strong nature begins to shine through, and the book ended with her as my favorite character of them all. As far as her way of seeing things influences the narrative, it is obviously after a while that her decisions influence the book throughout, but I think the mystery would have been just as complete even without her acting in a certain way. But, of course, I agree that the author knows best so I will say no more.

Last but not least, T.S. Eliot called this book “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels“. It is hard to believe in this day and age, when detective novels are everywhere, that a little over a century ago the genre almost didn’t exist. And then Wilkie Collins appeared on the scene. While not entirely original (parts of it are inspired from real life), the book established the cornerstone of the genre, and some of its elements are still used to this day (large number of suspects, amateur detectives, the person who did it was the least likely of all, a local policeman who does a bad job at solving the case and more).

What I liked most: There is a certain scene where Rachel has a heated conversation with the guy she’s in love with. It’s my favorite scene and I liked Rachel at least twice as much afterwards.

What I liked least: I was less than enchanted by the “medical experiment” that helps solve part of the mystery. I found it quite hard to believe despite Ezra Jennings quoting from official (and I supposed real life) books. Sure, the author assures us in the preface that he had make sure this is what it would have happened, by consulting “not only [...] books, but [...] living authorities as well“. I do believe him of course, and yet that part of the narrative was decidedly the one I liked least.

Recommend it to? Anyone who likes classics and/or good mystery books.

See also
Audrey Niffeneger’s review of The Moonstone

Written by the same author:
Poor Miss Finch | Armadale

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E Is For Evidence by Sue Grafton

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Time and place: December 1982 – January 1983; Santa Teresa, California
First sentence: “It was Monday, December 27, and I was sitting in my office, trying to get a fix on the mood I was in, which was bad, bad, bad, comprised of equal parts irritation and un easiness.”

Summary: A seemingly simple fire insurance investigation brings Kinsey in contact with an old acquaintance: Lance Wood, brother of Kinsey’s high school friend Ashley. Everything looks all right, a clear accident, and that’s what Kinsey reports to her superiors. Or tries to, because when she gets there she discovers she’s been framed, as the official file is completely different from the one she had. So much so that there’s clear evidence of arson, making Kinsey a suspect of trying to cover it up. The fact that five thousand dollars have mysteriously appeared in her bank account does not help things either. All leads up to a single conclusion: Kinsey has to move fast and uncover the real perpetrator before she herself is arrested and put on trial.

The first things I noticed in this book about the characters were their names. We have one Linden Wood, one Ebony Wood and one Olive Wood. Sure, the rest of the cast has normal names (like Lyda Case or Ashley Wood) but the first few caught my attention. Also, it’s perhaps the strongest case of cognitive dissonance I have ever met while reading a book, I kept thinking of Ebony as being African-American (yes, with more or less ebony skin, but also because usually the Ebonies are indeed dark skinned) and of Olive as being Latina (yes, with olive skin, how obvious was that), when in fact she was blonde no less. I did of course manage to think of them as them, the ones in this book, after a while — but I find it oh so interesting because it’s the first time in memory when this has happened to me.

As usual, in this book we find out a bit more about Kinsey, our main character. This time an important part of her past is back in town: her second husband, who has abandoned her after less than a year of marriage and countless infidelities. Kinsey’s current sort of boyfriend (Jonah, from the previous books) has taken his family somewhere to ski, and Kinsey is feeling a bit under the weather due to her having to spend the holidays by herself. And then Daniel (the ex) appears out of a sudden at Kinsey’s door and it’s obvious that she still has some leftover feelings for him. Kinsey in love, and Kinsey betrayed: two new sides of her that we get to discover in this book.

What I liked most: I am in love with the series — for some reason I find them a very relaxing read. Perhaps because the rhythm is not very alert, very little stuff blows up and mostly we get to watch Kinsey more around trying to unearth information. Don’t get me wrong, I like a suspense novel with rapidly succeeding events just as much as anyone else, and yet I seem to like these “quieter” books very much too. While I am still trying to put my finger on the reason why, this quote of Kinsey’s offers a possible explanation: “I love information. Sometimes I feel like an archaeologist, digging for facts, uncovering data with my wits and a pen.“. And it seems like I very much enjoy watching Kinsey digging for facts and uncovering data, hee hee. :)

What I liked least: This has got to be the most predictable book in what I read so far (and I have not enjoyed it very much because of that).

It all started when show spoiler

Recommend it to? Mystery book lovers, especially those who like female PIs. This being said this has not been my favorite book in the series so you might want to start off with another one (so far anything would work since there is no actual connection between the books other than the main characters so each works on its own quite well). Then again, I met lots of reviews that named this as one of the best books in the series so to each its own.

This book is a sequel to:
A Is For Alibi
B Is For Burglar
C Is For Corpse
D Is For Deadbeat

This book is followed by:
F Is For Fugitive
G Is For Gumshoe

D Is For Deadbeat / Sue Grafton

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Time and place: 1980-something, Santa Teresa
Summary: The deadbeat in the title is a guy, Alvin Limardo, who came to Kinsey one day to hire her to find a certain 15 years old boy and give him something. He paid in advance but the check bounced, so Kinsey is forced to go look for him and settle things through (as she says, one cannot afford this when working on one’s own as the word gets out fast). She only manages to find out a few basics about the guy (for starters that his name was actually John Daggett and he only recently got out of jail) — when the police find his body on the beach, dead, looking like an accident. Nevertheless Kinsey has a feeling there is more to the story and, when Daggett’s daughter hires her to find out more details, she starts following each possible thread, with all the skill and the patience we’ve come to know and love.

Kinsey is… well, the same old Kinsey: a tough little thing, a loner, trying to be the best person she can and living up to her principles. One thing I really like about her is that she’s built a nice life around her, and she is happy with it and never complaining. I was amused to see that in this book she gives up her defenses and actually starts a relationship with Jonah — a good thing for both of them although I do wonder how it will all work out in the long run. I was amused to meet in passing some other characters from the previous books (such as Mike the pink-haired teenage drug dealer from B Is For Burglar).

As usual I am wowed by Kinsey’s way to conduct her investigations: her patience in following all the possible leads and, of course, her smarts in finding those leads in the first place. As I have probably said before, watching Kinsey at work is like watching a jigsaw puzzle being solved — you never know what will come off it in the end but it’s sure to encompass all the bits and pieces found scattered along the way :)

Another thing I found interesting in the book was the questions it arose: John Daggett was in jail for “vehicular murder”, having killed five people in a drunk driving accident. While he was always a no-good fellow, does that mean his death was a reason for joy? It is perhaps interesting to notice how in front of death we all are equals: Kinsey doesn’t hesitate to search for Daggett’s murder (to avenge his death in a way), despite his (perhaps) unworthiness. It made me feel sad reading about it, the accident, the emptiness it left behind in the lives of people involved, and most of all the fact that it could not be repaired, not even by the very death of the guilty part.

What I liked most: the very idea of having a collective name for a whole building (a.k.a. when any of the tenants needed to use a fake name he used Alvin Linardo :P ). Like a very original insider joke.

Also, I was happy that the very last paragraph was included as without it the whole ending would have seemed perhaps a wee bit forced :)

What I liked least: Nothing — I love these books (the ABC series) on the whole.

Recommend it to? Anyone who enjoys mystery books and/or courageous heroines :) Although it’s part of a series the book can be very well read as a standalone.

This book is a sequel to:
A Is For Alibi
B Is For Burglar
C Is For Corpse

This book is followed by:
E Is For Evidence
F Is For Fugitive
G Is For Gumshoe

C is for Corpse / Sue Grafton

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Milhone, Bobby Callahan
Time and place: the 80s (1982?), Santa Teresa (California)
Summary: Bobby Callahan is a rich 23-years old who’s recovering after a horrible car accident. He is convinced someone has tried to kill him by pushing his car off a cliff on purpose, he remembers thinking he was in trouble — but he doesn’t remember anything else. Which is why he hires Kinsey to unearth the details and find out “who did it”. Unfortunately in just a few days Bobby is involved in a second car crash, this time fatal. Although everyone expects Kinsey to abandon her investigation, she doesn’t, out of loyalty for her erstwhile friend.

Kinsey is the same “lonely wolf”-like person I’ve grown to know and love. Same quirks, same courage, same persistence. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that in this volume she reveals only a few more things about herself; nevertheless one of them is very intriguing: a mention of the fact that Kinsey is the mother’s maiden name (so her real name isn’t actually Kinsey). I wonder whether this particular subplot will be developed in the future (allowing the readers to find out Kinsey’s actual name and the reason she changed it) or dropped.

In my opinion the plot idea was particularly interesting, and I congratulate the author for thinking of it. Kinsey’s whole case is based solely on what one person knows, only the person has parts of his brain (and as such important, relevant memories) missing after the accident he was involved in. Bobby remembers seeing his assailant, but not much else. A great way, in my opinion, for the author to give Kinsey just enough info for her to find her way around things. I mean, how many books have you seen where the sole witness is also a partial amnesiac?

It is perhaps amusing to notice how in every book so far the author has mingled a whiff of romance too. After Kinsey’s going through two short lived relationships (in books one and two), it is now her landlord’s turn to hopelessly fall in love. This particular subplot has been quite interesting for me (Lila Sams was that annoying that I couldn’t help hoping that something bad will eventually befall her, thus getting poor Henry Pitts out of her malevolent clutches :) ). I have a theory about who will be involved in the relationship in the next book (Kinsey and the guy in book two perhaps?) but I’m probably wrong and the author will surprise us (the readers) once again.

Once again I caught myself, when Kinsey was in trouble, keeping thinking Kinsey should just call someone from her cellphone already (only managing to remember after a few split seconds that, well, they had no cellphones back then). Interestingly enough I am not bothered in the least by Kinsey’s typing her reports on a type writer instead of on a computer, but the idea “Kinsey should just use her cellphone” keeps passing through my head every now and then (speaking of which, I wonder whether Kinsey will ever buy a cellphone — given that the books so far have lasted only a few weeks each, plus another few weeks in between, I’d say her chances are quite slim; but who knows).

What I liked most: I am, as usual, extremely impressed by the fact that Kinsey never runs out of places to look/people to talk with next. Which is one of the things that make her such a great private investigator (and that show I would probably be a very lousy one :) )

What I liked least: First book in the series that’s been actually predictable. Oh well.

Recommend it? Yes :)

This book is a sequel to:
A Is For Alibi
B Is For Burglar

This book is followed by:
D Is For Deadbeat
E Is For Evidence
F Is For Fugitive
G Is For Gumshoe

B Is For Burglar / Sue Grafton

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Time: about 1986 I’d say
Summary: Two weeks have passed since the previous book and Kinsey is on to a new case: a woman has hired her to locate her sister, Elaine Boldt. Known to be spending part of the year in Florida and the rest of it in Boca Raton, Elaine is not to be found in either of the places. One of the first thing Kinsey discovers is a curious coincidence: there has been a murder and arson case at the house next door to Elaine’s flat in Boca (a burglary attempt, said the police) a few days before Elaine has been seen last (boarding a flight to Miami).

One of the things I like the most about Kinsey is how normal she is: she has doubts, she is afraid, she has pet peeves like the rest of us. She’s also persistent and smart, two must-have qualities when talking of PI work. I have also been amused by Julia, Elaine’s elderly Miami neighbor. She is the “tough nut” type, endearingly so, despite her being over 80s and her health not being what it once was. Elaine herself is being as a very likable person, and I did like her, despite her scarcely being present in the book. On the opposite side I have found the Pat Usher person, whom I very much disliked, finding the way she ruined every place she was in really really REALLY annoying (I am not a cleanliness freak but I am very sensitive when it comes to people’s homes :D ).

In this book Kinsey gathers a bit more depth (character-wise) by unveiling some tidbits about her past: she’s been a policewoman for a while, but wasn’t very good at taking orders so she quit. She’s been first taught to use a weapon by the aunt who raised her and who saw she liked the smell of gunpowder. The cramped home she loves so much used to be a one car garage (wow, that must be really cramped) and so on. Making it all the more easier for the reader to perceive Kinsey as “real”, to care for her and root for her.

The reason why I’m hooked with the alphabet series is best explained in this quote:

Most of my investigations proceed just like this. Endless notes, endless sources checked and rechecked, pursuing leads that sometimes go no place. Usually, I start in the same place, plodding along methodically, never knowing at first what might be significant. It’s all detail; facts accumulated painstakingly.

Kinsey’s work has nothing of the glamour and excitement we see in the movies: it feels real and authentic. She’s taking small pieces of information and tries to make them fit so as to form one big picture — a thing that is bound to appeal to a jigsaw puzzle addict like me :)

What I liked most: The eye for detail the author gave Kinsey. Most of the times, while following her leads, Kinsey finds herself in many new places (mostly people’s homes). I have loved the way she takes everything in, from the pattern on mugs to the particular shape of a random vase. It is of course very normal for a PI to think like that, to act like that, but I couldn’t help thinking every now and then that, had I been the writer, I wouldn’t probably have thought to add in all those little “touches”. Which is probably why Mrs. Grafton is a writer and I am not: it is those very little things that make people particular, that give them life, that differentiate them from simple cardboard cutouts. :)

What I liked least: Nothing (Yay!).
(Actually, I am a wee bit bothered about why Lily Howe had to be told everything in the end, as “who did it” had no need to disclose the deed to her (hint: plastic surgery!!), but oh well, it could have happened as malefactors do seem to have a tendency to brag :P )

Recommend it? Yes, it kept me on the edge of my seat as I ended up being very curious about whatever might have happened to Elaine. Plus I didn’t quite guess the ending, which is always a plus when mystery books are involved. :)

This book is a sequel to:
A Is For Alibi

This book is followed by:
C Is For Corpse
D Is For Deadbeat
E Is For Evidence
F Is For Fugitive
G Is For Gumshoe

A Is For Alibi / Sue Grafton

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Kinsey Millhone
Summary: Kinsey (thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids) is a private investigator, and the book details one of her cases: the murder of lawyer Laurence Fife. At the time he died everyone thought his wife did it so she went to jail for it; eight years later she’s out on parole and she hired Kinsey to find out who the real killer was. Interestingly enough, the first thing coming to light once the investigation started is that there have been another murder, in the very same way, weeks after the first one. All the more reason for Kinsey not to stop until whoever did it was caught (quite a challenge if we think of the eight years that have passed since).

Kinsey, with her strange penchant for cramped space, and a private investigator to boot, was pretty hard for me to identify with as at first sight we have nothing in common. Nevertheless I did understand her and found out what made her tick, and I ended up liking her — she is tough and at times rude but really, how else could she have managed to hold on to such a job as hers in a world of men? Most of all I think I liked her principles (especially related to Martha Threadgill’s case), how she wanted the truth to triumph and the dishonest to be punished (or at least not to succeed). Unfortunately there has been no other character fleshed out enough — all others come and go as needed, stating what they know about the case then move out of limelight without us finding unnecessary (to the investigation) details about them. We see them only filtered through the light of how cooperative they have been to Kinsey: Gwen = good, Lyle = bad, etc.

Having recently discovered there is such thing as an “alphabet series by Sue Grafton”, I just had to see what the fuss was about. All in all I did like the book (though I did have a bit of trouble identifying who was who in the beginning, as Kinsey read some names in some files (e.g. Libby Glass had a “surly sounding” boyfriend, Lyle Abernathy), then moved on, traveled, talked to people and then she thought about seeing say Lyle, leaving me to wonder “who is this Lyle anyway??” — but that’s probably my own fault, forgetting the already mentioned names like that) and I was quite curious to see how will it all end up. I plan to read at least the next book (B Is For Burglar), and I’m quite looking forward to it too :)

There’s only one thing I find not quite adding up: where does the title of the book come from? I mean, I can of course understand “A Is For”, as it’s the very first book in the series, and “Alibi”, as it is, of course, a word starting with A. Thing is, there is no actual alibi involved in the whole book! Both murders were done in the same way: the victims took what they thought was a prescription pill (Laurence an allergy pill, Libby a tranquilizer), but had been replaced with poison. Which means the murderer could have switched the pills even weeks before the death, making the whole idea of alibi completely useless since no one knew when it actually happened.

PS If you find yourself (like me) wondering why Kinsey, when in a jam, doesn’t call the police from her cellphone, the reason is simple enough: the book was written in 1982. Wow. It really did not seem that old to me (although I did wonder more than once about the lack of cellphones :D :D )

What I liked most: The way Kinsey’s work was set out in front of her like solving a puzzle: a bit of info here, a bit of info there, all seemingly unconnected at first but getting to look more and more like one big picture as the investigation rolled on. Which is the main reason I plan to read the next book, I liked this part that much :D

What I liked least: *************SPOILER****************

Why did Charlie kill Gwen?? He had no way of knowing she had confessed the murder of Laurence Fife plus even if he did, what reason would he have to kill her? It’s not like she knew anything more about the Libby Glass part (she definitely didn’t). I don’t think the idea of Charlie panicking and not thinking straight justifies it — even so, why her?

**************END SPOILER**********

Recommend it? Yes. It’s not perfect but it’s a fast read and quite captivating at times :)

This book is followed by:
B Is For Burglar
C Is For Corpse
D Is For Deadbeat
E Is For Evidence
F Is For Fugitive
G Is For Gumshoe