Book Review: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Virgin in the Ice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #6) by Ellis Peters.

(Four Stars)

“Never go looking for disaster. Expect the best, and walk so discreetly as to invite it, and then leave all to God.”

Among the most popular of the Cadfael chronicles, this tale heralds the first appearance of Oliver de Bretagne. (Read the book to discover his significance.)

“In a land at war with itself, you may take it as certain that order breaks down and savagery breaks out.”

By this sixth volume, Peters has reached her stride. Firmly set in the history and geography of twelfth-century England, these tales dig into the always-current dirt of humanity and find both gold and dross. Often it’s our favorite monk doing Continue reading

Book Review: Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Saint Peter’s Fair (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #4) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“The manifold gifts of God are those to be delighted in, to fall short of joy would be ingratitude.”

Better with each reading. I discovered Cadfael twenty years ago. I have read each book at least twice since as well as watched all thirteen Mystery! episodes. Though they have some merit, many of the latter turned the originals inside out.

“It’s no blame to men if they try to put into their own artifacts all the colors and shapes God put into his.”

Saint Peter’s Fair is a murder mystery, but it is also an immersion in medieval culture and history, a reflection on the world and man’s place in it, and a romance. Peters weaves all her threads into a fascinating tapestry simultaneously fun and informative. Each book has a background story about medieval history or culture. This one focuses on trade fairs.

“Penitence is in the heart, not in the word spoken.”

Earlier readings left me with the impression that Cadfael was a twentieth century man in monk’s robes, but he is thoroughly a reflection of his time, though he rises above the stereotypes.

“What you see is only a broken part of a perfect whole.”

A good story well told. Mystery Theater (PBS) got this one pretty close to right, which they didn’t always.

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“The uncomfortable feeling that God, nevertheless, required a little help form men, and what he mostly got was hinderance.”

Opening historical fiction set during England’s twelfth century. Peters combines medieval history and a modern who-done-it, starring a crusader turned Benedictine monk.

“Brother Cadfael himself found nothing strange in his wide-ranging career, and had forgotten nothing and regretted nothing. He saw no contradiction in the delight he had taken in battle and adventure and the keen pleasure he now found in quietude.”

Not at all Christian in either intent or style, the story nevertheless accepts that Cadfael and those around them are not beset by the doubts and conflicts over faith which be devils moderns.

“When you have done everything else, perfecting a conventual herb-garden is a fine and satisfying things to do.”

The church and clergy are not spared Peters’ critical pen. On the other hand, wrongly accused innocents and young lovers (often one and the same) get special dispensation. A pattern that will persist through the series.

“He had been scouring the borderlands for a spare saint now for a tear or more, looking hopefully towards Wales, where it was well known that holy men and women had been common as mushrooms in autumn in the past, and as little regarded.”

“God resolves all given time.”

Book Review: “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Two Stars)

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Book Review: “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker

(Two Stars)

(This review contains numerous spoilers.)

“Who discovers how to access infinite realities and then uses that discovery to invite her alternate selves to a convention?”

Great concept. How do you investigate a murder when the victim and all the suspects are the same person? Wanted to like it better. The point of view is one of the more pedestrian iterations of Sarah (yes, the author uses herself as the main character/almost-entire cast), but fails to grip the reader with the inner turmoil she describes as happening. Too focused on philosophizing and preaching.

“Divergence points were the key to everything.”

Figured out who-dun-it half way through, but find the explanation unsatisfying, though Pinsker provided several twists trying to make it suspenseful.

“We all built the future with our choices every day, never knowing which ones mattered.”

(2018 Hugo Award novella finalist.)

Book Review: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey #12) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Five Stars

“He has been about as protective as a can opener.”

Excellent. Best story of the series. Engaging plot and exposition. Sayers’ voice sounds more authentic when the point-of-view character is Harriet Vane, a writer of murder mysteries. Lord Peter has added depth, including a real purpose, the secrecy about which is also explained. The setting, a fictional woman’s college at Oxford, is drawn with perception.

“… mentally turning the incidents of the last hour into a scene in a book (as is the novelist’s unpleasant habit).”

The Lord Peter stories can be read in any order. If you read no other, read this one. However, if you do you will spoil Continue reading

Book Review: The Nine Tailers by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Nine Tailers (Lord Peter Whimsey #11) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“Probably I’m tryin’ to be too clever.”

I liked it but, by the time you’ve read a dozen books in a series, you’ve not only learned the modus operandi of the protagonist but that of the author as well. The surprises may still surprise, but the way they develop is not a surprise.

“’Nature has marvelous powers of recuperation.’ Which is the medical man’s way of saying that, short of miraculous intervention, you may as well order the coffin.”

A good story, lost in the minutiae of ringing peals (of church bells) in rural England. The church bells get into every aspect of the story, including the murder. Lord Peter at his best as Sherlock Holmes acting as if he’s Bertie Wooster.

“Take care of the knot and the noose will take care of itself.”

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh

Four Stars

“If it were easy, I would not be famous.”

Excellent period piece movie. Meticulously staged and photographed. All-star cast. Lots of fun.

“The criminal act is the anomaly. It takes a fractured soul to kill another human being.”

Inevitable comparison with the 1974 version: this one has a bigger pallet. Scenes set in Jerusalem and Istanbul as well as outside the train give the cinematographer a bigger canvas on which he painted with impressionistic color and drama. Branagh makes a better Poirot than Finney, but no one could take those mustaches seriously.

“Romance never goes unpunished.”

Why not five stars? The movie seemed too aware of itself. Bordered on melodrama.

“Did we die?”

Book Review: Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Murder Must Advertise (Lord Peter Wimsey #10) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“The most convincing copy was always written tongue-in-cheek.”

Lord Peter without balancing humanity of Harriet Vane is thin soup. A ripping great mystery, in fact several nestled within one another, but Wimsey anticipated much that doesn’t work about Bruce Wayne. Talk about leading a double life.

“A man of rigid morality–except, of course, as regards his profession, whose essence is to tell plausible lies for money.”

Each of her books is set in a place (London here) and a culture (advertising) which allows modern readers insight into Continue reading

Book Review: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey #8) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Four Stars

“I can believe a thing without understanding it.” “Your explanations are more incredible than the problem.”

Perhaps the best Lord Peter mystery yet. Opening the book in the point of view of a female mystery writer gives the story a verisimilitude wanting in previous Lord Peter works, even those featuring Harriet Vane. Her reflections on how this “real” mystery compares with her fictional ones gives the story extra substance. Her critique of detectives in general and Lord Peter in particular entertains.

“–the halcyon period between the self-tormenting exuberance of youth and the fretful carpe diem of approaching senility.”

Why only four stars? As the story progress, Vane is shoved to a supporting role. Too many recapitulations. Probably realistic, but Continue reading

Book Review: The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Five Red Herrings (Lord Peter Wimsey #7) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars

“The more you hate everybody for hating you, the more unattractive you grow and the more they hate you.”

By her own admission (elsewhere), “the plot was invented to fit a real locality.” Apparently, also written to please her Scottish friends, this is a Sudoku puzzle of clues spread through several hundred pages of prose. Not one or two but five false trails are explored and discarded. Dreary. The least pleasing Wimsey mystery to date.

“This English habit of rushing into situations on a high tide of chatter and excitement.”

Five percent in, Sayers inserts a comment, “… as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted….” Dirty trick. Yes, I deduced Continue reading