Wednesday, September 30

Blue Heaven – Joe Keenan

An amusing late twentieth century take on PG Wodehouse and the (unknown to me) Preston Sturges set in New York, Blue Heaven is the tale of how hapless Philip Cavanaugh is inveigled into playing a role in a brilliant but doomed plot, dreamed up by his friend and former lover Gilbert Selwyn.

Looking back on the whole ghastly affair, what surprises me most is that when news of Gilbert's plan first reached me I felt no sense of foreboding
whatsoever. I didn't blanch, I didn't tremble, nor did I rush to a pay phone to call an airline and enquire about low fares to the Canary Islands. My early warning system, usually so reliable where Gilbert is concerned, had completely shut down. I was at a gallery opening, you see, and cheap wine will do that to you.

Gilbert is in even more dire financial straits than the perpetually penniless Philip, and has been cut off by his usually indulgent mother on the strong advice of her second husband, Tony Cellini. It was when he attended the wedding of Tony's niece that that the perfect solution came to him – a wedding! All expenses paid for, and groaning tables of wonderful gifts. The clincher was when Gilbert discovered that it's a family tradition to open the gifts in front of the wedding party, thereby ensuring that everything's expensive. The only fly in the ointment is the little matter of Gilbert preferring men. Oh, and finding a bride. The former is glossed over as a phase, made easier by Gilbert's never actually coming out to his mother or step-father. The latter problem is solved when Gilbert discovers that the truly odious and conniving Moira Finch is in a similar situation it seems almost preordained.
What Gilbert didn't factor in was that for every step forward, the pair would find themselves in a more complicated situation than the one they'd left. Well, that and the fact that Moira's interests didn't completely align with Gilberts. Oh, and the pesky little issue of Tony being fairly high in the New York mob. And wherever goes Gilbert goes Philip, his eyes a little more open and his fear considerably greater than Gilbert's.
My copy of Blue Heaven is thick with tags where I've come across particularly amusing sections, but sitting down to write I realize that I risk reproducing half the book if I quote them all. The dialogue is crisp and funny, the plot is original yet true to its inspirations, and the characters are unique and well rounded. I grew quite fond, while maintaining a strong appreciation of her fictionality, of Moira's fashion designer friend, Vulpina, whose creative approach has to be curbed while maintaining a friendship – though we never get a clear picture of the dress she'd like to create, odd phrases like "all those wolverines" gives one enough of an impression! The supporting cast, particularly the Italian wing, is sizeable, and I didn't bother keeping close track of who related to whom, but that wasn't necessary. In any case, Keenan supplies beautiful vignettes:

Sammy Fabrizio was a large woman in her late fifties. She wore a tight strapless gown of electric blue and earrings which might, on a weaker woman, have caused spinal damage. Her hair was sculpted into a bizarre terraced beehive that made her head resemble an ancient Inca cliff dwelling. Her voice reminded me of a duck, and not a clean-living duck either but one that's been drinking gin and chain-smoking since it was a duckling.

Ah, it's the voice that tips the portrait into a masterpiece! If you like your fiction witty, funny and a little arch, Keenan is for you. I can't remember much about my first reading of Blue Heaven, some twenty years ago, in no small part because it coincided with such a large Wodehouse binge I haven't returned in the interim. I vaguely remember buying the sequel, Putting on the Ritz, which may well turn up in one of my boxes and will certainly be read. – Alex

Tuesday, September 29

Nick Gadd: Ghost Lines

When a disgraced investigative journalist, reduced to belting out filler stories for a local rag, is sent to cover a level crossing accident he expects nothing more than a routine tragic death story. But events conspire to drag him into a dark world of art theft, dodgy business dealings, political corruption and murder. With his health failing and his personal life in tatters the last thing he needs is to get involved but the story takes on a life of its own and no matter how hard he tries to drop it the only escape for him might very well be his death.
This is a mystery story with real depth. A number of seemingly disparate elements all weave together to form a bigger picture that is more than the sum of its parts. The main character is beautifully drawn and believably flawed. The plot is complex enough to keep the reader guessing all the way without resorting to an excess of red herrings or with held information.
There was a very slight supernatural element (that I can’t go into without spoilers) which I don’t think the story really needed. To my eye it didn’t add anything particular but neither did it detract from the story either. So while it didn’t work for me, it wasn’t a deal breaker and I’m sure the author had his reasons for adding it in.
The ending resolved all the subplots in a neat package and the local setting was a novelty I enjoyed.
For a first novel this was a fine effort and I hope to see more of Gadd in the future.-Lynn

Sunday, September 27

Spindle's End - Robin McKinley

Subtitled A tale of magic and adventure, this reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty fable opens with an explanation of the magic of the unnamed land in which it's set, "so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk dust." Fairies are employed for a variety of purposes, including reversing the magic that would otherwise produce thimbles or pansies instead of tea.
After fifteen years of childlessness, the queen conceives, and the joy of a nation greets the birth of Casta Albinia Allegra Dove Minerva Fidelia Aletta Blythe Dominia Delicia Aurelia Grace Isabel Griselda Gwyneth Pearl Ruby Coral Lily Iris Briar-Rose. For fairness the queen decides to invite the whole country to the baby's nameday, in the form of lots drawn in each village and hamlet.
In the most distant region of the kingdom, where Lord Prendergast acts on the king's behalf, the lot is drawn by Katriona, the orphaned niece of the fairy Saphronia, known to all as Aunt.
The first part of the novel is told from young Katriona's perspective - from her arduous voyage to the capital through to the surprising events at the naming, Katriona demonstrates courage and endurance, a fitting trial for what lies ahead. For, in the aftermath of Pernicia's curse on the newborn heir, the queen's personal fairy Sigil gives the infant to Katriona, with the admonition to keep her safe. Katriona retraces her steps, this time hiding in shrubbery and feeding the princess with the assistance of wild animals, with whom she can communicate and who seem to grasp the importance of discretion.
Rosie is raised as, and believes she is, Katriona's niece, and the second half is told from her perspective. Adamantly ungirly, despite her godmother-endowed blonde locks and sapphire eyes, Rosie crops her hair, prefers the company of animals to people, and is devastated when she has to move into their small town, though she ends up meeting the girl who will not only be her friend for life but change her destiny.
There were many things about Spindle's End that I really liked. One aspect was the conflict, evident more strongly early in the novel than later, between the male, logical and learned magicians and the (almost exclusively) female, intuitive and more backgrounded fairies.
I enjoy reworked fables, and McKinley deservedly has a reputation in this subgenre. I liked the narrative style, the transition in protagonist perspectives, the romantic elements, and the world building.
There's loyalty, friendship, love of all kinds, suspension, tension and drama in Spindle's End but somehow it was all relatively bland. I read the novel while at an academic conference, and appreciated the contrast but reflecting on it some days later nothing in particular stands out. I enjoyed it, but left the book behind without regret. I suspect part of this is because the underlying structure of the story didn't really offer anything substantially new. Certainly there are differences, key among which is that the princess is instrumental in her own fate, but all in all I've read more engrossing variants on a theme. - Alex

Friday, September 25

Jeaniene Frost: Halfway to the Grave

Twenty-two years ago a vampire raped a young woman resulting in the birth of a daughter who has grown up with a lot of the vampire’s abilities and all of her mother’s hate for the race. Now she’s out to stake anyone without a pulse in the hopes that one of her victims will be the louse who fathered her.
A routine hunt goes terribly wrong and she is captured by a vampire bounty hunter. To save her life she makes a deal with him: she’ll act as bait so that he can catch an elusive master vampire and in return he’ll train her to use her abilities and help her track down her dad.
Working with him she soon begins to question her hatred of all things undead. As their relationship takes a turn for the romantic she learns to accept what she is and that not all vampires are bad.
But their relationship is doomed from the start with her family’s resistance, a master vampire out to use her to get to her new lover and a covert government department determined to recruit her and kill him.
This book is the first in a series and the one thing about it that really stuck out to me was the hero. Anybody who has ever seen the TV series Buffy would recognize the hero as a version of the vampire Spike. Not only did his physical description bring the TV character to mind, he was also English (reflected by tragic inclusions in dialogue that make me think the author has never actually spoken to an Englishman) and has a single word name. At least the heroine here is nothing like her Buffy counterpart.
But if you can see past the heroic homage and the average writing, the story itself is fast paced, multilayered and includes some hot love scenes.
For me this book is the literary equivalent to kraft macaroni cheese (you know the stuff in the blue box). You know it’s rubbish and you shouldn’t eat it but you do and you love it anyway. It’s a shameful indulgence that you don’t want to give up because sometimes it just hits the spot. That’s this book, and maybe even this series, for me. We’ll see.-Lynn

Monday, September 21

Joanna Bourne: The Spymaster's Lady

A British spymaster must enter France and bring back a brilliant, dangerous and elusive French spy who knows the details of Napoleon’s plans to invade England.
When the two of them end up in the same dungeon they form an uneasy alliance in order to escape the French secret police. Once they achieve freedom the French spy wants to go her own way but the British spymaster is determined to bring her in.
The pair is hunted through France and the French spy manages to escape both her British captor and her murderous countrymen. But her freedom is short lived. She is recaptured and finds herself in Britain where the two rivals become lovers while she plans her escape.
She soon learns that the British are not the only ones interested in what she knows and that the French have issued an order for her death.
She is torn between loyalty to France and the safe haven offered by her lover for the price of Napoleon’s plans. Making the only decision she can live with she escapes the British and presents herself to the French bargaining for her life by naming traitors to the French cause.
Her lover finds her at the French spy safe house and convinces his French counterpart to release her into his custody claiming, falsely, that she has been a British plant the entire time. Deals are done.
She is free to choose her own future. Naturally it will include her British spymaster.
This story is what happens when a great plot meets fantastic characterisation and good research. I loved it.
The heroine was intelligent, competent, talented and determined. The hero was pure alpha but believably vulnerable. There was a little bit of the victor’s version of history (the British spies didn’t use indiscriminate torture like the French spies) but not so much as to be completely unbelievable of the period.
There are a number of surprise twists that are unexpected but not unbelievable. And the ending got the heroine neatly out of a seemingly impossible moral dilemma.
This is historical romance as it should be written.-Lynn

Saturday, September 19

Night Fall - Nelson DeMille

Five years after TWA flight 800 fell out of the sky, cop and Anti-Terrorist Task Force member John Corey is approached by his wife, an FBI agent and also an ATTF member, about her concerns. Part of the team initial investigating the incident, she's never been convinced by the official explanation, particularly as soon many witnesses saw a fiery streak toward the plane moments before the explosion.
What follows is a fraught covert exploration of the evidence, coloured for the audience by two pieces of information we know that the protagonists don't. The first is that there was a missile, captured on video by a trysting pair of adulterous lovers. The second is the spectre of September 11, which looms over the plot. Though general impressions of time are given, the actual date is rarely mentioned, so every moment from about half way in has that additional tension. There is some fairly heavy retrospective wisdom - there are two paragraphs of Corey musing about "Mr Osama bin Laden," his wanted posters and the 45 million reward, and he mentally chastises the lack of security evident on federal facilities since the attempt on the World Trade Centre:

Washington and the news media chose to see each and every terrorist attack as a single event with little or no connection, whereas even an imbecile or a politician, if he thought about it long enough, could see pattern. Someone needed to rally the troops, or some event needed to be loud enough to wake up everyone.
For me the biggest flaw of Night Fall is that the central question of why the attack was covered up is never satisfactorily answered. I was also irritated by the use of September 11 as a deus ex machina to effectively ensure that the attack can once again be covered up, this time with all the ends tied neatly, which is somewhat unsatisfactory.
My brother-in-law, a fan of conspiracy, gave me the book with his recommendation. It was certainly an absorbing holiday read, though perhaps not wholly suitable for a trans-Atlantic flight! I'm glad I've experienced the DeMille phenomenon, but think once was enough. - Alex

Thursday, September 17

J G Sandom: The God Machine

Blurb from the back of the book:
The coded journal of Benjamin Franklin. A hidden map. A legendary gospel. These are the first pieces to an ancient puzzle so powerful, it could destroy the very foundation of Christianity… in a world of secret societies, ancient conspiracies, and Masonic puzzles, locating the prize is one thing-staying alive, another.
And so it goes on. I can only assume that the hero solves the puzzles, saves the world and gets the girl but I will never know for sure because I gave up on this one at page 86 (of 468).
I’m quite fond of the conspiracy theory/thriller/mystery combination so when I discovered this on the recommended reading rack at my library I was delighted. I thought the plot sounded great, if a little Dan Brown-esque. At the point I stopped reading most of the usual suspects had been introduced or strongly foreshadowed: the wounded hero, the morally ambiguous Mason, the sinister Catholic sect, the hypocritical evangelist and the sexy intellectual woman were all there. The plot was only just being set up but it promised to be action packed. So why did I put it down with no intention to ever pick it up again?
Sadly, I quickly discovered that this writer’s voice wasn’t for me. They’d done their research, quite thoroughly too, and they were intent on sharing everything they knew. Not in a discrete seamlessly blended manner that enriches the story but more in a style reminiscent of the recorded lectures you can listen to on self guided tours of historic places.

For example:
It was the home of the Militare Ordine Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Gerusalemme di Rodi e di Malta, commonly known as the Knight Hopitaller. The Knights of Malta.
Founded in Jerusalem in 1080 by the Blessed Gerard, the order was originally launched to provide care and relief for the poor pilgrims
..etc, etc.

It goes on in this vein for another three pages. At which point I stopped reading. I could have overlooked it if it had been a one off. It wasn’t.
I love history but this kind of pace dragging info dump has no place in an action thriller. Particularly in one that is already disjointed by jumping about in time.
Dan Brown’s literary efforts may have all the intellectual merit of my grocery list but at least they’re page turners. Disappointingly, The God Machine doesn’t even offer that.-Lynn

Monday, September 14

Mike Carey: Vicious Circle

Desperate for cash an exorcist takes on a seemingly insignificant case searching for a ‘missing’ ghost. But it soon becomes apparent that there is more to this than meets the eye. He is brutally encouraged to drop the case by an excommunicated catholic sect in addition to being physically and psychically attacked by a fellow exorcist.
It transpires that he and his friends have been inadvertently dragged into the middle of a satanic cult’s attempt to raise one of the fiercest demon’s in Hell and every attempt to disengage from the plot only digs him in deeper.
Eventually he manages to thwart the cult and derail their resurrection plan but at a high personal cost.
This is the second book in the Felix Castor series and I enjoyed it immensely. The main character has grown considerably since his introduction in the first novel. As do the secondary characters, albeit to a lesser extent.
The world building is good and believable (though I could do with a little less London geography), but there is no further explanation as to why there is a sudden increase in ghosts of one sort or another. This is something that bothered me about the first novel and I had hoped to see it addressed but it seems that this is something the reader will simply have to take on faith.
Carey’s confidence in these characters and this world seems to have grown and the result was a richer, deeper novel with a strong streak of dark humour that appealed to me. The plot was convoluted but easy enough to follow and it all came together nicely in the end.
I have become quite enamoured of the phrase "I can’t believe it’s not cognac". I’m very much sold on this series and will be hunting out the rest.-Lynn

Sunday, September 13

The Girl in a Swing - Richard Adams

Alan Desland, a dealer and lover of porcelain figurines, is middle aged and resigned to bachelorhood. Somewhat reclusive, his self-image is highly coloured by having overheard at a young age that he was unattractive. On a routine trip to Copenhagen Alan meets Karin, a beautiful young secretary/clerical worker and is instantly smitten by every aspect of her. Filled with trepidation and precipitated by fear of not seeing her again, Alan delays his return to England and asks Karin out.
He is delighted to find her receptive and after a whirlwind romance proposes. Karin accepts, on the proviso that they marry in England, and agrees to move there with him. After a discussion with his minister, however, Alan thinks the three week wait will be too long and thanks to one of Alan's American clients the loving couple fly to Florida to wed instead. they have a joyous honeymoon in Gainesville, initially marred by Alan's inability to perform but finally consummated.

Though the wedding occurred before anyone had met Karin, she soon charms his friends and family. She is, however, reticent to discuss her own history and makes no effort to contact her own friends or family.
Though he relates Karin's intermittent crying and nervousness, Alan does not seem to see the import of these and other behaviours. He has some hinted at psychic abilities as a child, and though he manages to ignore the many signs Karin displays, Alan acknowledges, or at least senses, a spectre of darkness hanging over them, though. His concerns tragically come to fruition- an event unsurprising to the reader, for we know from the outset of Alan's narration that Karin dies. Throughout the novel we see Alan's idealisation of Karin, a vision he grimly clings to despite mounting conflicting evidence that Karin is not the alabaster figure he envisions.
A marked change from Adams's earlier, and more well known work (Watership Down and the more adult, darker themed The Plague Dogs), The Girl in a Swing is unquestionably a literary novel, with Gothic overtones. Alan is trilingual and possessed of a classical education - he and Karin quote philosophers, poets and writers in a variety of languages, which tended to break my connection with the narrative, being monolingual and clearly not the productive of an English prep school education.
The Girl in the Swing is in many ways a product of its time - the terrible price Karin paid for their love would almost certainly not be necessary now. On a related but less controversial note, I've often thought, though I think not written here, about the move from to-day/to-morrow to the conjoined form we use, and if there was debate about the transition the way there is about linguistic shifts. Anyway, Adams is of the first camp, at least in the edition I had, which was given to me when I was ten or eleven. I can only imagine that the parent of the child who gave it to me was going on the reputation from Watership because it's very much not a children's book. The darker themes, the impotent angst and the sex scenes (which are far more literary than erotic) aside, the writing is aimed at an adult, literary audience.
There's an interesting insight into impotence from a male perspective, wherein Alan compares "that great field of life dominated by Aphrodite - the area of sexual passion
to those of a miner descending the shaft or a soldier approaching the front: "the frightening realisation that here all life-long assumptions - the safety and predictability one had always taken for granted and come to rely upon - did not apply. Continuous danger and uncertainty affect the very eyes through which one saw the world and affected everything I thought and did."
It was Karin's great beauty that so affected him, combined with a sense of disentitlement, that this vision of loveliness could indeed be for him. But her tactful, gentle handling of the situation reassures him. However, the rapid, inexplicable romance and the fact that he knows virtually nothing about Karin causes Alan no alarm, and throughout the novel his beloved remains a cipher.
The title of the novel comes from a porcelain figure of intriguing provenance, which is discussed in the novel and a variation of which can be seen here.
I love the line, as Alan arrives back in London, that could have "gone chasing the hares on the grass between the runways" - it's not only indicative of his buoyant mood but also a far more bucolic image than arrivees to London see now!
Vogue is blurbed on the cover as saying of this little known work that it is "a novel of beauty, calm, sensuality, anticipation, horror and nightmare" - with all of which I concur, but I also found it overly literary, unsatisfying and anticlimactic. - Alex

Wednesday, September 9

Jennifer Crusie: Bet Me

After being dumped by her boyfriend for refusing to sleep with him, a woman overhears him making a bet with a handsome man that he will not be able to sleep with her either. Wanting her ex to lose the bet and needing a date to her sister’s wedding the woman agrees to have dinner with the man. The two seem incompatible and the woman decides that a wedding date isn’t worth the effort. They part pleasantly with no intention of meeting up again.
But Fate has other plans and over the course of the month they find themselves often in each other’s company. The woman finds him harder to resist than the carbs she’s not supposed to eat and he can’t understand why he can’t get her out of his mind.
The situation in complicated by their friends hooking up and their respective ex-lovers joining up in an attempt to win them back-something neither of them wants.
Being a romance the two naturally end up happy together.
Light, fluffy and sweet, this book is an easy read that demands nothing from the reader and delivers an entertaining story.
It was novel to find a plus sized heroine who was actually large and faced real issues about her size but was not whiney with it. I found her weight obsessed mother and her passion for carbs a little OTT but at least they were comic and possibly reflective of real attitudes. Best of all I liked that this heroine didn’t have to lose the weight to win her man.
The humour worked for me in the main (though the climactic scene involving most of the main characters seemed a bit silly to me) being sharp and clever.
The plot was straightforward and yet complex, the characters interesting and the pace spot on.
Crusie’s work has been a bit hit and miss for me in the past. This was definitely a hit.-Lynn

Friday, September 4

Belinda Alexandra: Silver Wattle

I just wrote a long and detailed review of this novel and my thoughts about it. Unfortunately the internet seems to have eaten it and I couldn’t be arsed rewriting. So in essence:
After the suspicious death of their mother two young girls flee Prague in fear for their lives. They seek sanctuary with an estranged uncle in Australia.
Life in 1920’s Sydney is very different to their privileged upbringing in Europe but the two talented young women grasp every opportunity that comes their way. They eventually make a name for themselves in the local film industry but success doesn’t necessarily equal safety or happiness.
Basically they overcome the many tragedies of their lives, past and present and we are left with hopefulness for their futures-though a happy ever after isn’t explicitly spelled out.
I was attracted to this book by the gothic sounding plot and the 1920’s setting. Neither played a great part in the story, which was more of a coming of age/family saga kind of tale.
Though this is not the kind of story that I would normally read I found it to be nicely written.
My initial review was somewhat more erudite but since it’s gone for good, this condensed version will have to do.-Lynn

Thursday, September 3

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt

A Northern writer visits Savannah in the last 1970's and, over a period of months, gets to know some of the more colourful and influential residents of this traditional and unique Southern city. When Danny Handsford, a young hustler, is shot and killed by an influential older man, there's some expectation that it will be swept to one side, which is consistent with related events. Instead antiques dealer Jim Williams is charged and tried. As our narrator covers the subsequent events he finds himself discovering a new side of a town he's come to love.
Based on real events but tweaked, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is written in first person and presented as wholly factual. Far more a character study than murder mystery, Berendt introduces readers to a variety of eccentrics from the lauded Lady Chablis (a lounge singer who sometimes takes a break from the hormones and goes by Frank); disenfranchised Luther Driggers (who's supposed to have a vial of concentrated poison that could wipe out the town through the water supply), and voodoo priestess Minerva (who gives the book its title). The central character, though, is Georgia's Savannah, and Berendt weaves a picture of eccentric independence and the presence of the past into his narrative.
I'm surprised Midnight was such a success but suspect that, like some other surprise best sellers, it tapped into a zeitgeist that passed me by. It's certainly more a literary novel than it is murder mystery - the pace is languid, the pivotal event occurs around half way through, and if you're reading for content rather than ambiance you'll find yourself wondering what the point of much of the atmospheric writing is. Indeed, had the shooting not occured I would have been hard-pressed to find a narrative spine in the book. It didn't read to me as though the death of Handsford was in the front of Berendt's mind when he began writing, and there's nothing that flags the lead up as significant.
Yet, despite this, none of the events seem shocking or even surprising - everything unfolds at a languid, low impact pace that I suspect reflects the society he depicts. Even the unusual people seem drawn in pastel or sepia tones, removing much of the significance of even quite shocking revelations. And while we learn a little about the city of Savannah and her people, I came away from the book with no sense of the author, where he came from, why he spent so much time in Georgia, what drew him to Savannah, or even what he thought about any of it.
Perhaps that's what influenced my feelings of neutrality. Midnight is one of the many books I've had languishing about for years and have brought with me overseas to read before allowing myself to buy anything new. All I knew about it going in was that I'd had it for years, it was set in the South, had some vague connection with voodoo, was well received, and had been made into a film. I come away from it feeling much the same. I certainly didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, I wasn't connected to it, and I don't feel altered by it. I understand that some people love it, and am sure they have their reasons, but for me it will be part of the background wallpaper of my 2009 reading list. - Alex

Wednesday, September 2

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy - Mabel Maney

Jane Bond is tired of waking every morning with a vile hangover, lying next to some half-remembered pick up from the night before, but ever since she discovered her lover Astrid in bed with (oh the cliche) her best friend Ruth, Jane's had trouble doing anything else. Bridget's different than the other women, though - a gorgeous Powder Puff Cosmetics seller clad in a hot pink mini dress and thigh high white boots, she's every inch a 1962 moddish girl about town who takes no crap from Jane. She's also an agent for GEORGIE (Greater European Organisation of Radical Girls Interdicting Evil) which creates all kinds of problems when the Secret Service tap Jane on the shoulder to serve her queen and country. Jane's brother, the suave agent 007, is in a sanatorium but his presence is urgently required at a royal event. With a radical haircut and ingeniously tailored suit Jane may be able to pass for her twin brother, leaving the enemies of the state none the wiser.
There are subplots about a conservative group (Sons of Britain Society) plotting to kidnap the queen and reinstate the Duke of Windsor to the throne, and a spy eager to take over from 007 but failing, but you have the gist. The author of gay and lesbian parodies involving the Hardly Boys, Nancy Clue and Cherry Aimless, Maney has turned her hand to one of pop cultures most iconic figures and carried of Fleming's style quite well.
The plot is ludicrously convoluted, just like some of the canon novels, the Britishness is beautifully threaded through (particularly for an American author), there's a great sense of time as well as place, and the dialogue is punchy and often comedically perfect. Like all parodies a little goes a long way, but if you're a fan of the Bond books and prepared for some tweaks this is the book for you. - Alex

Tuesday, September 1

John Harwood: The Seance

A young woman with few prospects is surprised when a distant relative dies and leaves her the beneficiary of a large estate. She is even more surprised by the reaction of the lawyer who delivers news of her windfall: he warns her that the house is cursed, the grounds are haunted and suggest that she might not the be natural daughter of her parents but that of a scandalous cousin accused of murdering her husband then running away with an unnamed lover never to be seen again.
Fascinated, she begins to research the history of both the house and the family. She soon comes to believe that the murder never happened, that the accused were set up and the supposed victim still alive and well.
At this point she is approached by the Society for Psycical Research, who wish to hold a séance at the house. She agrees and during the society’s examination of the premises certain evidence is found that prove her suspicions are correct.
This knowledge puts her life in danger but she finds she cannot rest until she clears the name of the supposed murderess, which might just be her natural mother, and exposes the fraud of the supposed victim, who may be her natural father.
This book, while a little slow to start, turned out to be an interesting historical novel full of intrigue.
Refusing to plod the predictable path, the story twists and turns, seemingly setting up one situation only to deliver another.
Though it wasn’t quite what I had expected, from the title and blurb I had anticipated more of a ghost story rather than a crime mystery, it did not disappoint. It kept me guessing even beyond the point when I had worked out what had actually taken place but didn’t spring a completely unanticipated culprit on the unsuspecting reader in the way of historical crime writing.
Authentic to its era and entertaining too-Lynn.