Book Review: An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters (Five Stars)


Book Review: An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters

Five Stars

“A duty once assumed is a duty to the end.”

My favorite Cadfael story. All the elements familiar to Peters’ readers–death, mystery, and sleuthing set amid a historic civil war, medieval culture, Welsh borderlands, and young love; but Peters mixes the ingredients a little differently this time.

“To me he has been all the sons I shall never father.”

Peters’ best investigation of what constitutes a life well lived. A man returns from the Crusades, as had Cadfael himself, to retire from the world into the Benedictine order. This noble is also ruined of body. As he fades, those around him seek to ease his earthly and emotional burdens, including the disappearance of his espoused bride three years previous.

“His spirit outgrows his body … there is no room for it in this fragile parcel of bones.”

Murder mysteries all involve death. Or do they? Yes, someone dies here, but was someone murdered three years previous? Why? Where? How? And most important Continue reading


Book Review: Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George (Three Stars)

Book Review: Payment in Blood (Inspector Lynley #2) by Elizabeth George

Three Stars

“[Murder] contaminates and pollutes, and no life it touches, no matter how tangentially, can ever be the same.”

Murder on the Orient Express investigated by Lord Peter Wimsey, with an old Scottish manor house playing the part of the train. As with all these cut-off-from-the-world murder mysteries, solving the crime involves untangling the relationships among the characters. That the investigators form early and conflicting opinions of who-dun-it increases the complexity.

“Silence is as useful a tool of interrogation as any question.”

The large and often indistinguishable cast is the strength and the weakness of this story. The reader is often forced to pause to figure out Continue reading

Book Review: The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (Two Stars)

Book Review: The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Two Stars

“He wanted an audience, even for his vices!”

Red House is not so much a murder mystery as a who-dun-it-of-manners. Published in 1922 (before Milne’s famous children’s books), it owes as much as a debt to P. G. Wodehouse as Arthur Conan Doyle. Not bad writing, not good either. Milne would eventually find his measure in the hundred-acre wood.

“It’s very hampering being a detective, when you don’t know anything about detecting, and when nobody knows that you’re doing detecting, and you can’t have people up to cross-examine them, and you have neither the energy nor the means to make proper inquiries; and, in short, when you’re doing the whole thing in a thoroughly amateur, haphazard way.”

The story itself revolves around a young man deciding to solve a crime by consciously, and superficially, employing the technique of Sherlock Holmes. (Milne played cricket with Doyle.) That he makes many wrong guesses increases the fun. The perceptive reader suspects the real crime and culprit long before the amateur sleuths.

“We knew their answer was wrong, and we had to think at another.”

Quibble: the labeling of dialogue is so confusing that the reader is repeatedly forced to stop and puzzle it out.

“There is no point looking for a difficult solution to a problem, when the easy solution has no flaw in it.”

“Silly old ass” mimics the rhythm of a similar phrase of Christopher Robin.

“It’s a question of your instinct instead of your reason.”

Book Review: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: Monk’s Hood (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #3) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

(third reading: May 2016)

“Every time I come near you I find myself compounding a felony.”

One of the best of the twenty chronicles. I am not one to judge the merits of murder mysteries, but as historical fiction this takes the reader right into the history and culture of twelfth century England and Wales. Improves with subsequent readings.

“What seems to be an easy life in contemplation can be hard enough when it comes to reality.”

Along the way Pargeter treats us to multiple suspects, blind alleys, false trails, officious police and even abbey politics. All peppered with homey aphorisms about life then and now. Thoroughly enjoyable reading.

“The means of comfort and healing should not be used to kill.”

Quibble: twelfth century law would not so easily release a murder suspect in hand to another, lesser-in-their-eyes authority for horse stealing. Despite a game attempt to explain it away, it blatantly served plot advancement, not realism.

“We are all the victims and the heirs of our fellow-man.”

Book Review: Critical Condition by Richard L. Mabry (Four Stars)

Book Review: Critical Condition by Richard L. Mabry

Four Stars out of Five

Not sure what you call a book like this. Definitely a murder mystery. Definitely Christian fiction. Definitely a medical thriller. But the resulting mash up exceeds the component parts, usually. The medical minutia occasionally slows the pace. The Christian aspect is deftly handled, better the most Christian romances or adventure stories.

The protagonist is a surgeon who finds herself surrounded by bullet-riddled dead bodies, several outside the premises of her hospital. And she’s not handling it very well. Oh, and her wild-child sister is desperate for shelter, and not all is right with the parents, and her fiancé isn’t … and that’s her fault. And, is that cop hitting on her?

Occasionally had a Connie Willis flavor with characters so over-loaded their missing obvious details. Details which may prove fatal.

Starts slowly and the pace builds.