Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Picture Miss Seeton

A shorter BotW post this week, because you’ve already had three great books from my reading last week in my Summer Reading post! But I finished Picture Miss Seeton on Sunday afternoon and wanted to give it a mention.

I do love a stylised cover. As long as you can get a matching set!

A retired art teacher, Miss Seeton witnesses a murder after leaving a performance of Carmen. Despite only getting a shadowy view of the killer, she manages to draw a picture that enables Scotland Yard to identify him. Soon she’s facing peril in the rural cottage she’s just inherited, where the villagers are also taking an interest in the new arrival.

This really scratched my itch for cozy crime with added humour. Miss Seeton is a wonderful send up of elderly lady detectives. She’s impossible to shock, utterly unflappable and practises yoga in her free time. She’s always one step ahead of the police and always manages to be in the right place at the right time to pick up the vital clue. I found the switching points of view occasionally a bit jarring or confusing, but I forgave it because I was having so much fun reading about Miss S’s adventures. It was a perfect book to read while recovering from nightshifts.

I’m fairly sure I’ve seen some Miss Seeton’s at the library (or maybe in the discount bookshop) so I suspect I may be reading more of her adventures in the near future. Picture Miss Seeton is available on Kindle and Kobo and should be available (probably to order) from all the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, new releases

Book of the Week: The White Cottage Mystery

We’re back in classic crime territory for the week’s BotW – although it’s a bit of a cheat as this is a reissue of whole book – Margery Allingham’s The White Cottage Mystery – but it is excellent and it gives me a great chance to talk about an author who I think is a bit neglected.

This is a tricksy and intriguing standalone mystery which sees a policeman and his son trying to solve the murder of a particularly nasty neighbour. Jerry happens upon the scene of the crime and soon has his Scotland Yard detective father involved.  This was originally a serialised book (just like some of Harriet Vane’s novels in my beloved Peter Wimsey) and you can really tell from the pacing and multiple cliffhangers. There is a clever drip feed of clues which method you turning the pages, and although I had suspicions about the culprit, it wasn’t until quite late on that I worked it all out.

This was my first non-Campion Allingham and it didn’t disappoint. I usually prefer my detective books to be part of a series (I prefer Miss Marple and Poirot to Christie’s other books) but this was a pleasant surprise. But then it’s not that different in style to the Campion series, you could almost swap the leads for Albert and his son and it would nearly work (except that Albert is not a cop) and that totally works for me! In case you haven’t met Allingham’s most famous creation,  Albert Campion is the younger scion of a noble family, who uses an assumed name and solves mysteries with the help of his faithful manservant and police officer friend. Sound familiar? Well that’s because it supposedly started as a Lord Peter Wimsey parody, but developed into much, much more (an BBC ran for much longer). Albert’s Bunter equivalent is a reformed (ish) criminal and Campion end up being much older than Peter.  They’re also more adventure stories than detective, most of the time you don’t have a chance of working out the solution to Campion’s cases but they’re such great fun you don’t care.

I discovered Margery Allingham when I was living in Essex – where she still had a large presence in their libraries as a local author, even though she’d been dead 40 years at that point. I devoured as many of them as I could lay my hands on, and although the series has its ups and downs, I defy you not to like them if you’re a fan of Wimsey, Marple and Poirot or even adventure stories like Amelia Peabody or Vicky Bliss. It’s not the first one, but start with Sweet Danger and I defy you not to get hooked.

My copy of The White Cottage Mystery can via NetGalley, but you can buy it in paperback from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones  or on Kindle. You should also be able to find new or secondhand copies of Albert Campion too.   Don’t blame me for the spending spree that will ensue though…

detective, Series I love

Series I Love: Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood

Here it is finally – the post about Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series that I’ve been promising for so long!

Phryne was my discovery of the year in 2013 – I read the first book, Miss Phyrne Fisher Investigates* on June 1 last year – and by September I’d read the first 18 books in the series (books 19 and 20 took a bit longer because they initially fell outside my Kindle book cost limit as they were so new – although I stretched my limits on occasion for some of the others) reading them almost in one sitting.  I’ve just re-read the whole lot to see if they’re as good second time around – and they really are.

So who is Phryne?  Well  firstly, it’s pronounced Fry-knee (not Frinn as I had it in my head until she told some one how to say it!) and the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is a 1920s aristocrat, who spent her childhood in poverty in Melbourne before her father came into his title.  She returned to Australia in her mid-twenties to investigate a mystery for a friend of the family (and to get away from said family).  She liked Melbourne so much that she stayed and has established herself as a Private detective.  She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s brave, she knows what she wants – and she has the money to do it.

There aren’t a lot of (good) female leading ladies in historical detective fiction**.  This is mostly because for the vast majority of history women haven’t really had the power to do much on their own – and it’s hard to construct realistic stories around what they would have been able to accomplish.  From this point of view, Kerry Greenwood has done a perfect job in creating Phryne.  The post-war period brought greater freedom for women, particularly if you had money – which Phryne does.  Greenwood has also given her a stonking – and realistic – back story which explains why Phryne has the attitudes that she does and also creates openings for stories that aren’t too far fetched.

And in a genre where men often get all the action in the bedroom, Phryne more than holds her own.  She may on occasion pine for a man – but not to marry, she just wants them in her bed!  Her lovers rarely last more than a book – but they always leave on good terms. Lin Chung is the notable exception to this rule – but I’m not going to tell much more than that because I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Like every good detective, Phryne has a gaggle of loyal helpers including her maid Dot (frequently described as a “good girl” who tries not to be scandalised by her employer), her adopted daughters (picked up during a case) and Bert and Cec, the wharfies-cum-taxi drivers-cum-red raggers.  And as she’s not actually a policeman, she has her own Inspector Japp in the form of Inspector Jack Robinson and his constable, Hugh Collins.

I don’t know a lot about inter-war Australia, but I can’t remember a jarring word or phrase in the books, and rarely has anything struck me as being too far-fetched.  There’s often a bibliography at the end to reassure you that the author really has done her homework. In fact the more I read about what people could get up to in the 1920s (Kenya’s Happy Valley, some of the Bright Young Thing’s antics), the more I think that Kerry Greenwood’s been positively restrained!

So, in short, if you like your period crime novels with strong heroines, interesting plots and a little bit of bedroom action (fairly subtle, not too graphic) and you haven’t read any of Phryne’s adventures, may I point you in the direction of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates in paperback or on Kindle.  She’s well worth it.

 

*  The first book was originally published as Cocaine Blues – I’m assuming they changed it for the UK market to make it clearer that it’s the first in the series.  I can’t think of any other reason.  It’s still called Cocaine Blues in Australia.

**I’m planning posts on some of my other favourites as well – and I’m always looking for recommendations – please leave a comment if you have suggestions for more that I should read.