Monthly Archives: March 2008

Gossips Galore: Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer (1953)

Pretty much my first thoughts on finishing this novel were, what on earth has the title got to do with the book? It sounds like the name of a firm of private investigators, but the plot is another of Heyer’s village set mysteries, and the only investigators are the police.

Hated local bigwig Sampson Warrenby has gone and got himself murdered. Unfortunately for the police there is a rather large pool of suspects (just about everybody).

Once again we meet Inspector Hemingway, whom we previously met in Envious Casca. He also appears in Duplicate Death and No Wind of Blame which I have not yet read, but there is no attempt to round him out as a character in the way that, for example Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn is rounded out.

There is at least, a lot of detail in this novel – for a start there’s a map of the village, so we can properly visualise all the convoluted descriptions of where people said they were at the time of the murder and the routes they took to get there. I always use maps when writing anything complex, so I could appreciate this. The characterisation was also quite good – as noted above, everyone has a motive – it’s because everyone has something shady in their past. Everyone also has a theory as to who committed the murder, and none of the suspects is shy about informing the Inspector who they think did it. For him, the task is to filter out the noise and the misdirection from gossipy neighbours, including the killer and identify them.

As if that wasn’t enough two of the suspects decide to investigate, and end up falling in love in the process. But it’s still hopelessly clichéd, and definitely not the best of Heyer’s detective novels.

Baker’s Dozen: The Thirteenth Apostle by Michel Benoit (2007)

I read this book last year, but for some reason never posted the review I wrote at the time, but as we’re coming up for Easter it seemed appropriate to post it now. At first glance this appears to be yet another example of the Dan Brown bandwagon. I read these when I need some brain candy, but I don’t often review them because they don’t tend to be particularly well written, and reviewing bad books can be tedious. This is different: I’m not sure that it is even on the DBB; for a start it’s a translation. I suspect it’s more in the tradition of the likes of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club Whatever its origins, it’s being marketed to the Dan Brown crowd, although I suspect they may be a bit nonplussed by it.
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Red express: Last Train to Kazan by Stephen Miller (2007)

This is another sequel. I read Miller’s UK debut, A Game of Soldiers last year and loved it. This, if anything is even better. Miller continues with his gritty depiction of early 20th century Russia, here in the grip of the revolution. He is showing himself to be a master at the sort of historical plot I adore where a fictional story is woven imperceptibly between what we know of real events.
Everyone knows something about the last days of the last Tsar of Russia even if it is only that he and his family were murdered. But there were always stories that one of more of his children survived, such as the notorious case of Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia. I recall seeing advertising in a magazine from the twenties using a testimonial purportedly from Tatiana about how useful she found so and so’s cough mixture now that she had to earn her living as an opera singer! Miller uses this tradition and brilliantly pulls it off.

It is July 1918. Miller’s morose protagonist, former secret policeman Ryzkhov has spent the last few years in the trenches fighting for the French. Now circumstances and blackmail have brought him back to Moscow, where further blackmail forces him to work for the nascent Soviet secret police, and gives him the task of identifying what has happened to the Tsar and his family. Heading to Yekatarinburg, he is caught up in the bitter conflict between the Whites and the Bolsheviks, but continues with his task, only to discover all is not as clear cut as it first appears…

The only disappointing thing about this book, which I read in the UK paperback edition, was the simply appalling proofing. I’ve read self-published novels from Publish America with better proofing and that’s saying something. This really is unfortunate as it detracts from what is an excellent and thoroughly gripping read. It’s real edge of the chair stuff, and had me turning the pages as fast as I could read them to see if Ryzkhov pulls it off. I loved the twist at the end. Strongly recommended.

End of the Romanovs

Stephen Miller

Jolly good fun: London Pride, by Joanna Cannan (1939)

I bought this book as a Christmas present for one of my nieces, and sad person that I am, read it before wrapping it. I had to make sure it was suitable after all. Canaan is an author who has previously passed me by, not having been into pony books as a child (she originated the genre). This is the second of two of her children’s novels so far re-issued by the wonderful Fidra Books who seem set to do for children’s books what Persephone have done for women’s books.

This is a sequel, and I hadn’t read the first book. Normally I would find the style of direct address providing catch up extremely irritating, but here it only adds to the charm. The book reads very much as if it was written by an eleven year old telling a tale to a friend, which goes to show what an accomplished writer Cannan was.

In the first book, (We met our Cousins) two London children (Antonia and John) go to the Highlands of Scotland to visit their cousins and have a whale of a time. In this book the cousins visit London, and once again we have the usual fish out of water scenario, only this time the narrator is an observer. Set the Christmas following the events of the first book, it is an entertaining adventure as the children adopt a maltreated pony, (the London Pride of the title) hiding it in the gardens in the square where Antonia and John live with their ghastly aunt and uncle, their own parents being in India. Antonia’s aunt is attempting to bring her up in a proper ladylike manner, but Antonia is more interested in her pet ferret and having adventures.

No feedback from my niece so far, but I’m sure she loved it. I did.

There is an article about Cannan on Wikipedia here.