Sick and Tired
So, I’m tired and I’m getting sick. So you have to know that I love each and every one of you if I’m working up the energy to review books today. It’s been a looooong week folks. But, I’ve gotten some time in with some awesome books.
After last week’s post I decided to re-read The Far West. I’m about halfway through that. Then my Audible credits hit on the 4th and I found out that there is a new Kerry Greenwood book available. This is one of those weird international publishing things. The print edition of Unnatural Habits doesn’t come out until January of 2013, but it’s available on Audible now. I finished that up yesterday and now I’m listening to Feed by Mira Grant.
#65. The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
This is a post-WWI British mystery, so it’s right in my wheelhouse as Dan and Rob Wells say on their podcast. The protagonist, Laurence Bartram, has come out of the army with a whole body, but a shattered life. He escaped from the trenches relatively unhurt, but his wife and infant son died while he was away fighting. In the years since the war Laurence has drifted. His wife left him with enough money to live off of, but he has no purpose. He is in theory attempting to write a book about church architecture, but mostly he just sleepwalks through his days. Until one day, he gets a letter from the sister of an old school chum.
John Emmett was kind to the orphaned Laurence and took him home for the occasional school holiday. John, unlike Laurence, had a very bad war. He came back with severe shell shock. Mary has written to tell Laurence that John has taken his own life. Laurence soon finds himself caught up in the Emmet family drama. John had written a will leaving fairly large sums of money to several people that were totally unknown to his family.
As Laurence looks into these connections a number of sinister patterns begin to emerge. First, there is the nursing home John was staying at. How was he able to escape from it so easily? Why did the administration wait so long before informing either the police or John’s family that he was missing? The doctor in charge of the home is loved by the locals, but his son has a number of nasty rumors attached to his name.
Then there is the courts martial that John was involved in during the war. A young man was executed for desertion. The execution was needlessly cruel, possibly the result of administrative bungling. The event apparently haunted John. Laurence finds a photograph from the day of the execution among John’s things. He decides to track down the men in the photograph, but quickly runs into some walls. Several of the men are dead; some in accidents, some have been murdered, and John, of course, committed suicide. But as a pattern of deaths emerges Laurence begins to doubt everything he has been told about his friend’s death.
I enjoyed this book overall. I liked it enough to read the next book in the series almost immediately (#67). The characters were well thought out and the writing was very good. I found the plot a little overly complex. I felt that some of the twists were unnecessary. There is a romantic sub-plot that has its own twists and turns on top of the labyrinth of the main plot. At times I wondered how a man who has just come out of a sort of waking coma would have the energy to run down all these trails when I barely had the energy to read them, but Speller addressed that. Laurence does feel fatigue and despair at the points in the book when I was at my most emotionally exhausted. The book was, overall, darker than I really liked. This is true of the second book as well. I tend, especially with my mysteries, to read more escapist literature than not. Speller seems to look at the darker sides of human nature. She lovingly lays bare the faults and misdeeds and weaknesses of the characters in her novel. She highlights their strengths as well, but there seem to be fewer of those. I suppose the easiest way to describe this book is to liken it to a painting that is beautiful and exquisitely executed, but makes me uncomfortable to look at. After two books, I can appreciate her talent, but I think I’ll probably stay in the shallow end of that particular pool for a while longer.
#66. Courtship & Curses by Marissa Doyle
Courtship and Curses takes place during the Regency era. Sophie’s papa has something to do with the war office and is very busy trying to fight Napoleon. Sophie herself is making her curtsey to society this season. However, when she was a child she suffered a severe illness that left her with a limp. The same illness also took her mother, her sister, and her magic from her. She is shy about dancing, or even walking in public.
When a handsome young lord begins paying attention to Sophie she hardly knows what to think. But love does seem to be in the air. Sophie’s aunt rediscovers an old beau who was lost to her as a girl. Sophie’s father is showing signs of interest in the charming widow of an old family friend. Everything seems to be going well. Then Sophie’s magic starts to trickle back. It isn’t reliable, but it seems to show up at the best possible times because it seems that someone is trying to kill her father. And the assassin is using magic. Now Sophie must wrest her magic back under control in order to keep her family safe. But who can she trust?
I came at this series the wrong way round. I read this book first and then went back and read books 1 & 2; Bewitching Season and Betraying Season. This made for a fair bit of confusion from time to time, but nothing too bad. The third book is by far my favorite. Even though it was written last it takes place first chronologically. The next two books are set at the very beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. I love Sophie and her friends as characters. The action takes place in London and in Brussels, which is a city I haven’t not seen often in my reading. And as much as I love Victoriana, my first love will always be the Regency era, so I was excited to read another novel in that era.
It is an absolutely bewitching read! Doyle has done a wonderful job of keeping historical authenticity balanced with modern sensibilities. Sophie is a heroine who battles uncertainty from within herself as well as prejudice from without. She must learn to trust in her own strength despite the combined pressures of a physical handicap and an almost incapacitating grief. She is a wonderful figure for girls who feel like they don’t fit in.
#67. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller
Laurence Bartram returns in the second installment of the series. Laurence has been called to Easton Deadall by William Bolitho, a friend he met during the John Emmett business. Most of the young men of Easton Deadall, including the owner of the manor, died during the war and Bolitho is helping the owners of the manor to design a memorial window in the small chapel. Laurence has been called in as an expert on church architecture. The chapel is something out of the ordinary. But there is much in Easton Deadall that is out of the ordinary.
In 1911, the only child of the house, a five year old girl named Kitty, disappeared from her bed in the middle of the night. Every effort was made, a ransom was demanded and paid, but no trace of the child was ever found. Then the war came and took most of the village’s men away with it. When Laurence arrives Easton Deadall is a village of mourning women and damaged men. Soon after Laurence arrives a maid goes missing during an outing. Then a body turns up in the crypt of the chapel.
Once again, Laurence finds himself drawn into a mystery tied up in secrets from years ago. It is impossible to shake off the feeling that everything happening now somehow ties back into what happened to Kitty so many years ago.
This is the second book by Speller that I read in a two week stretch. It confirmed that while she is an excellent author, she’s a bit too dark for me. I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment, closure, or triumph at the end. I didn’t quite get that with either book. I felt sad at the end of The Return of Captain John Emmett and I felt a little puzzled at the end of The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. The story was complex, and well written, but I felt that the ending was tweaked just a little too hard to fall in with the author’s outline. I didn’t feel like the course of events laid out were entirely plausible. I’m glad it ended the way it did, I’m just not sure I, as the reader, had earned that ending.