There is an old adage that nothing breeds success like success. This is seen as true in publishing and in other branches of the entertainment industry. Thus if one book becomes a huge success, we are certain to see other similar books being published in the hope that they will also reap similar success. Of course this isn’t always the case but it is enough to ensure that celebrity biographies, misery memoirs and conspiracy novels have some mileage in them yet.
Leaving the first two categories aside (because I haven’t read any and have no intentions of doing so) let’s look at the last. Dan Brown has a lot to answer for, but no matter how badly written the Da Vinci Code may have been (and it was pretty awful) it had such high sales that it has ensured a steady stream of similar novels.
I work in a library. This is the time of year, when the last of the book budget is being scraped, and new books are coming in. Quite a few of them have been of interest to me, and consequently I have been reading them. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t historical novels, so I won’t be reviewing them here. Also unfortunately, several of the historical novels I have read lately, I have done so because I am reviewing them elsewhere, which means I can’t post the reviews here, or at least not yet.
This is quite annoying as I’ve got a few interesting old books in my to read mountain, that I bought in a second hand book shop recently, but have yet to get to. Still, I have a couple of posts brewing, but they may not appear for a few days.
It’s not always easy coming into a series half way through, and this book was no exception. I hadn’t realised when I picked it up that it was in fact the ninth featuring the main character as I had heard of neither the author nor the scenario before. This is a historical crime novel, set in seventeenth century Japan, a period I know virtually nothing about. There was enough catch up material to enable the new reader to understand what had happened in previous novels, but I suspect that it would be irritating to a fan of the series.
Sano Ichiro, former police chief, has recently been appointed Chamberlain, a job he is having some difficulty adjusting to. He accepts with alacrity the order to investigate the mysterious death of the chief of the Shogun’s intelligence service, but the investigation proves more complicated and dangerous to his own personal safety than he had thought possible. Meanwhile, Reiko, his wife and former assistant, is unhappy in the confines of her new role as Chamberlain’s wife and also accepts the request to investigate a case of murder apparently committed by a young woman of the outcast class.
It is somewhat predictable that these two cases are connected, and I didn’t really feel that the promised twist at the end ever materialised. Nevertheless, there was a wealth of wonderful period detail that made the book interesting to read, and Rowland goes to some effort to show the characters’ motivations, as they are not always what we would expect from our Western perspective.
This is the second of Georgette Heyer’s detective novels that I have read, and it has a similar plot to the first – Envious Casca. Like Casca, the plot centres round a group of people gathered in a country house for a family celebration. In this case, all of the people actually live in the house, and the celebration is the birthday of the patriarch, a most unpleasant gentlemen who naturally ends up as the corpse.
I found this novel of interest because it is so unusual a detective novel. In fact I don’t really think it’s one at all. The murder doesn’t happen until over half way through the book, and the intrepid constabulary fail to identify the murderer. The first half of the book is taken up presenting the reader with a portrait of a dysfunctional family. Adam Penhallow, the patriarch, is a tyrant, who through his control of the family finances is able to force his unwilling sons to continue to reside in the family house. Through the interactions of the various family members, and the servants, we are given masterful descriptions of people, none of them particularly likeable, and yet who all generate some sympathy in the reader for their invidious position.
And yet. The last words in the novel sum it up quite nicely;
“You’re right, sir,” the Inspector said, “A very unsatisfactory case.”
There are no clear-cut answers here, no heroic detective who uncovers The Ghastly Truth, indeed no ghastly truth is never uncovered at all. Very unsatisfactory, and for that probably truer to life than most detective fiction.