Sunday, February 24, 2019

THE MORTAL WORD, fifth Invisible Library delight from Genevieve Cogman

(The Invisible Library #5)
Ace Books
$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman's historical fantasy series, the fate of worlds lies in the balance. When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos . . . and the Library.

When Irene returns to London after a relatively straightforward book theft in Vienna, Bradamant informs her that there is a top secret dragon-Fae peace conference in progress that the Library is mediating, but that the second-in-command dragon has been stabbed to death. Tasked with solving the case, Vale and Irene immediately go to 1890s Paris.

Once they arrive, it seems that the murder victim had uncovered evidence suggesting that he may have found proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. But to ensure the peace of the conference, some Librarians are already hostages in the dragon and Fae courts. To save the captives, including her parents, Irene must get to the bottom of this murder—but was it dragon, Fae, or even a Librarian who committed the crime?

The Invisible Library reviewThe Masked City reviewThe Burning Page reviewThe Lost Plot reviewThe Secret Chapter reviewThe Dark Archive review

My Review: Unexpected. That's the best word I can use for this book. The resolution wasn't entirely unexpected but the path we're led down to get to it was. The murder was unexpected, the murderer was unexpected, the terrible trials of the heroes were largely unexpected.

Just how I like my series fiction.

At the end of book four, some serious developments take place that are central to the plot and climax of this book. If you haven't read The Lost Plot, stop reading and come back when you have.

So after Kai leaves Irene's tutelage and establishes a less romantically squicky relationship with her, we're treated to another of Author Cogman's exciting escapade-scenes to bring us to this story's reality: She starts off by wishing she still had Kai's backup for those tight corners she routinely ends up in. Then back to B-659 London to assist Peregrine Vale (whose rigid spurning in The Lost Plot of her determined sexual advances surprised me in no small degree) and Kai on a minor but intriguing case that's quickly and completely forgotten when Bradamant, of all people, shows up to demand Irene's presence among the Senior Librarians immediately.

And that's the starting bell for ten rounds of boxing, shadow boxing, and mixed martial arts cage-match to-the-death political, magical, and ethical battling. Irene manipulates events in her inimitable "why is it always me?" style. She gets Vale and Kai to the scene of a horrible crime despite the Librarians' unenthusiastic responses to their inclusion in the proceedings. The Librarians have been tasked with leading this peace initiative, they're not interested in handing a party to the treaty (and the murdered dragon's fellow creature) a privileged place in the criminal proceedings. Never one to be daunted, Irene makes sure Kai is there. After all, her inamorato being a dragon, he was never likely to take a warn-off very seriously. Luckily, the dragon negotiator is one of Kai's uncles and accepts Kai as a partial replacement for his secretary and right-hand dragon, the murder victim.

The Fae, meanwhile, have sent the archetypes of scheming amorality, the Cardinal, and dewy-eyed sweetness and loyalty-inducing honor, the Princess, to be their main negotiators. These august personages use their chosen archetypes to manipulate all the humans they can reach into cooperating or even conniving with them for advantage over the dragons and the allegedly impartial human Librarians. The trouble is well and truly stirred into Irene's investigation, conducted with Sherlockian character (and part Fae!) Vale, when the Fae appoint Lord Silver...yes, that Lord Silver, the B-659 Ambassador from Liechtenstein, nemesis of both Vale and Irene in past books! be their being in place. Oh joy! And believe me, Lord Silver takes advantage of his position to rile up Irene in the ways that he's so very good at...condescension and sarcasm are only part of it.

As events unfold, the Fae are at a serious disadvantage: The prime suspect in the dragon's murder is none other than the archetypal evil female aristocrat, the Blood Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed! The peace conference's locale, Paris (where else?) in a very 19th-century world, offers anarchism and grisly public entertainment like the infamous and terrible Théâtre du Grand-Guignol...a very real unreality guaranteed to appeal to Fae sensibilities and the Blood Countess's unique archetype of behavior. Irene is on the hunt for the killer, and the Countess is such an appealing choice, and there's no better diplomacy than to give people what they want....

She is at a crossroads. Choose the easy solution that will keep everyone in power happy? Seek the truth, damn the costs? When the truth finally hoves into view, Irene has a horrible choice ahead of her. The trail leads to the kind of moral quandary that the series excels at presenting. The cost of revealing the guilty murderer is unprecedentedly high, but Irene uses her position as a leader to lead everyone involved, whether her senior or another race's ruler, into a multiverse-changing brand new idea of diplomacy. She acts, in short, like Woodrow Wilson at Versailles in 1919.

The question is, has she birthed a United Nations or a League of Nations?

To be continued....

Monday, February 18, 2019

THE LOST PLOT, fourth Invisible Library novel and best to date

(The Invisible Library #4)
Ace Books
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: After being commissioned to find a rare book, Librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae.

In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can't extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They'll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library's own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn't end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene's job. And, incidentally, on her life...

The Invisible Library reviewThe Masked City reviewThe Burning Page reviewThe Mortal Word reviewThe Secret Chapter reviewThe Dark Archive review

My Review: Quite extraordinary. This is a high-stakes story within the Invisible Library series. Many, many things have changed since book one and in this story the changes truly come home to roost in the attic. Action, excitement, and several passages of astonishing violence are the key drivers of events down surprising channels.

It isn't often that I finish a series read, immediately procure the next, and devour that one in a day. I did that for this series because I am besotted with the idea of the Library and its multiverse-trotting spy/burglar/diplomats the Librarians. I am even, if you can believe this!, completely okay with the presence of magic in the series.

I know, right?!

I who lift my brow, crinkle my nose, draw my lips into a sneer, at the merest whiff of majgickq, actually *approve* of the system invented and presented in this series. It's actually inexplicable to me that I am not having literary hives every time the Language is used and at each Fae sighting. What has happened to me? I'm putting it down to the revolting fact, recently revealed to me, that I share an ancestor with *gag* Tom Cruise *retch*, which blow to my self-esteem causes me spiritual pain.

The story in this book is, from the opening scene, one of peril and menace to Irene. She is most often alone to face her adversaries. Kai is, as a developing theme in the series, going to have to learn to take action on his own behalf. Irene's worries that she isn't teaching him the skills she possesses so much as grooming him as her sidekick have been woven through the stories. It's a sign of the character's deeply seated identity, created by a talented and careful author. I buy into the characters's reality in this really quite daft alternative view of reality because Author Cogman spent the time to think through these small moments of self-reflection.

The main action takes place in a Prohibition-like New York after Irene and Kai land in the ruins of a library in Boston. Readers of the previous book will appreciate the emotional impact of this venue, and readers in general will share the appalled horrified revulsion that Kai and Irene express at the idea of a soul so bereft of respect as to perpetrate vandalism on a library. (As an aside, I note that [author:Susan Orlean|45374] just published [book:The Library Book|39507318] which non-fictional take on the subject I ended up abandoning as it was too painful to continue reading.)

The local mob boss, Giorgio Rossi aka George Ross, has a lady sidekick-cum-enforcer, Lily. Lily knows who, more accurately what, Kai is on sight. That's because Lily is Fae, and despite her chosen position as murderous muscle for the mob, is really the brains of the crime boss's operations. Irene's somewhat bizarre (and wholly unintentional) cover identity as an English crime boss visiting New York to drum up new business piques Lily's interest.

Crime boss Irene is hunting a vanished Librarian straight into the clutches of two dragons operating without sanction in this bizarre, lawless New York. They're aiming to win an internal political battle by supplying their dragon queen with a special alternative edition of an ancient Chinese novel. (She's interested in a re-read of this novel, a fondly remembered diverting entertainment from her past. That procuring this book for her amusement causes numerous deaths and a vicious war between her subordinates is...uninteresting.) Irene's hunted Librarian, Evariste, is doing his dead-level best to accommodate one of the dragons by procuring the book because his daughter is being held hostage by the dragon's clever henchman. Kai and Evariste, separated from Irene, go off and procure the desired book...but who receives it and how aren't in the least sure until the moment the event occurs.

The climax of the hunt for the book, for Evariste, and for justice (and Justice) takes place in the Court of the Dragon Queen. As always when the extremely Order-centered dragons are involved, there is a price to pay for the lies one tells, and a price to pay for telling the clear, unmuddied truth. Justice and fairness each have their innings, though neither one takes the field in unsullied glory at the end of the proceedings. The guilty...everyone is guilty, that's the nature of the world, the multiverse in fact, but here we mean "those whose actions and inactions caused irreparable harm" by it...suffer, and the wronged are made as whole as Justice can make them. Irene is required to suffer her personal agonies in the search for and service of Justice served to violators of Order.

But there is, as there always is, a reason in Author Cogman's relentless and grinding tale of Truth's victims. And it makes the ending of this book so very, very special. I seldom laugh with exuberant happiness as I read endings. That is exactly what happened here.

Author Cogman:

Saturday, February 16, 2019

GIRL SLEUTH, author Melanie Rehak's recounting of Nancy Drew's origins


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$14.39 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: A plucky "titian-haired" sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the Sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers) to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers' lives. Now, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery:
Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?

The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO of the pioneering Stratemeyer Syndicate after her father died. In a century-spanning story Rehak traces their roles--and Nancy's--in forging the modern American woman. With ebullience, wit, and a wealth of little-known source material, Rehak celebrates our unstoppable girl detective.

My Review: When I was about nine, I went through a Hardy Boys phase. My mother, who went from buying Oldsmobile-priced cocktail dresses at Henri Bendel and Chevrolet-priced suits at Bonwit Teller to working three jobs to support us, never said no when it came to buying me a book. So I read my way through the catalog, and looked around for more. Mama somewhat diffidently pointed out the Nancy Drew books. I asked if she solved crimes. “Yes, and drives a blue roadster,” said the wily old girl, and I had another school year's reading at a quarter a book. (Used. We most often bought used...Mama said the words didn't wear out and who cared about the cover anyway?)

Ever after, I've had a “thing” for All-American boys and girls who just damn well do it for themselves. From such acorns....

Mystery-reading pleasure was a given. Mother and sister were big consumers of the genre. I got my own books, and they were not mysteries, but good heavens a boy can't survive on a book a week! I mean really! So I read their mysteries. I checked mysteries out of the liberry. I read all the Hardy Boys (always preferred Joe to Frank, Iola be hanged) and Nancy Drew (what a maroon Ned Nickerson was!) a couple times each. They lost their luster about the time I found good SF.

But do you ever forget that first kiss? I know I haven't. Nancy, Frank, and Joe...oh my how I treasured their orderly world. No one behaved badly (my narcissistic parents were astonishingly insensitive and ill-mannered in their divorcing) without consequences, and crimes were punished. I liked that a lot! And I still do.

Melanie Rehak apparently did, too. She set out to tell the story, public since the 1970s at least, of the origins of Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth. All the ookie bleccchhhy part about families in conflict over Smothers-Brothers-y “dad always liked you best” and “I sit here with mom and you swan about” and so on; all the fish-out-of-water growing up of a major tomboy with a ginormous brain, in a rinky dink dink little wide spot in the road, leading to Iowa State and college degree in the 1920s; all the nasty mean greedy behind-the-scenes moneygrubbing everyone seems to have thought nothing of.

It's as good as a novel. It's as much fun as a Nancy Drew story to unravel. It's not perfect, but it's got a lot of story and it tells the story concisely, yet without leaving annoying holes or piling numbing crap all over the reader.

The focus is on Nancy, her “father” Edward Stratemeyer, her “mother” Mildred Wirt, and wicked stepmother Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. That's enough for a 600pp doorstopper, let me assure you! Author Rehak got out her laser, finely cut and carefully etched the truly important bits from these three peoples' lives and then soldered and electroplated the whole thing into a lovely, solid bracelet shaped like Nancy Drew.

Even if you've never read one of these books, THIS book is a very good read, and an intriguing side window onto American culture in the mid-20th century. As a hallmark of that finger-on-the-pulse quality that Stratemyer and his heirs have always had, Nancy Drew is getting her own TV show! The long-awaited CW TV adaptation has tapped a newcomer to play Nancy Drew. Exciting news, since the CW is the logical home for a drama based on her career.

Friday, February 15, 2019

THE BURNING PAGE, third Irene Winters the Librarian adventure novel

(The Invisible Library #3)
Roc Books
$11.99 Kindle edition, available now

Real Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Librarian spy Irene and her apprentice Kai return for another “tremendously fun, rip-roaring adventure,” (A Fantastical Librarian) third in the bibliophilic fantasy series from the author of The Masked City.

Never judge a book by its cover...

Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency of finding both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...

Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.

With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her...

The Invisible Library reviewThe Masked City reviewThe Lost Plot reviewThe Mortal Word reviewThe Secret Chapter reviewThe Dark Archive review

My Review: Irene Winters is, comme d'habitude, in the stinky stuff up to her modest pseudo-Victorian neckline. We join Kai, the elegant and toothsome dragon prince and Irene's apprentice Librarian, as they receive desperate new instructions from the Powers That Be. The Library is not aligned in the power struggle between the orderly dragons and the chaotic Fae, officially anyway, but it seems that the battle is joined...many worlds not safe for Librarians (a combination of spy and thief and bibliophile...I want to be a Librarian so bad I can taste it) to traverse. Something is clearly up. Irene and Kai are damned near killed by the Something, in fact, as a door into the Library from their current assignment literally bursts into flames as they try to use it.

Well, I ask you, is there any more exciting a way to bring a reader into the book's world?! And to set the stakes as high as they can be (personal survival)? I was prepared for a rollicking good time. I got one.

Vale, Irene and Kai's good friend in the alternate London where they are stationed as Librarians in Residence, is a relatively high-chaos world...magic works, there are werewolves all over, that kind of thing...whose life is analogous to Sherlock Holmes's in Conan Doyle's novels. The poor man, in the last book, was exposed to an EXTREMELY high-chaos world while rescuing Irene and Kai. (He nurses Feelings for...well...I suspect for both of them.) As a result his morphine addiction is in high gear. Since he's using the drug to self-medicate his inner demons, it makes sense that a chaotic world would cause his turmoil to reach a boil. It does...and in the universe of these novels that means he's literally, physiologically infected with chaos, to his severe detriment. Irene and Kai are desperately worried about him, but forced to focus on their Librarian issues.

It seems that the Big Baddie of the series, Alberich, has his sights on Irene again. He wants her to join him in his war to replace the Library with his own Chaotic sphere. Failing that, he wants her dead, because she's just too adroit and clever to allow to continue opposing him. He even takes on the bodies of others, killing them in the process, to reach her.
He swept her round another turn, his hand warm on the small of her back, gloved in a dead man's skin.

Their battle runs across multiple dimensions, includes innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders, and causes Irene to do something...a desperate survival tactic in the face of imminent death...that will cause her endless nights of grief and remorse. She has to set all the books in Alberich's Library alight! She destroys all the unique and irreplaceable volumes he's stolen from across the multiverse!! It comes close to ruining her, which I *totally* get.

Kai, in this story, turns himself into his draconic form for the first time. He's magnificent as one would expect. Author Cogman describes his dragon form in lavish, luxurious terms though not at any great length. The real focus is that he has the power to fly across the multiverse! This is new, or it was to me. He takes acrophobic Irene into the space between the worlds where she can see alternate realities as if she was in a jetliner. It's horrible for her, but amazing for the reader. It becomes urgent for Kai to do this multiple times and in some very high-stress situations.

Vale, meanwhile, is sinking fast. His save-the-day actions in The Masked City are reaping the whirlwind of his addiction. He spirals deeper and deeper into depression. Vale's best friend Inspector Singh of Scotland Yard (how you can tell it's an alternate London, South Asian inspectors?! Yeah, not so much in reality) is frantic with worry. He and Kai and Irene are locked in conflict about how to save their friend, with no good options appearing and the bad ones piling up. Ultimately, the problem of how to help someone in self-destruct mode is resolved...but having known self-destructive people well, I don't entirely buy it. The ultimate resolution is one I truly wish we had a way to implement in reality.

It's an exciting ride to get to the ending, and the fact is that it's a middle book so that's not as easy as one might think. I felt that this book was a step UP from its predecessor in action and excitement. That's a good, good thing. Series reads are deeply satisfying, as I've said elsewhere. I'm a happy boy when I'm among familiar faces doing fun things while thinking interesting thoughts, and that's how series reads are at their best. I was pleased enough with the last book to read this one, but it suffered from a, well, a bagginess at the knees that wasn't a good omen. This book didn't have that issue. The action was well-grounded in the reality of the series and the characters weren't Playing Parts...which might have been the point of the last book but wasn't to my taste.

Irene and Kai and Vale emerge from this entry in the series as a stronger team and a better bunch of individuals. Their interdependence is coming clearer and making them all stronger. I'm thoroughly hooked on these reads and can't wait to get to The Lost Plot.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

THE MASKED CITY, second Invisible Library episode starring Irene Winters

(The Invisible Library #2)
Roc Books
$5.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Librarian-spy Irene and her apprentice Kai are back in the second in this “dazzling”* book-filled fantasy series from the author of The Invisible Library.

The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time...

Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai, a dragon of royal descent, is kidnapped by the fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.

Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.

But navigating the tumultuous landscape of fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear...

The Invisible Library reviewThe Burning Page reviewThe Lost Plot reviewThe Mortal Word reviewThe Secret Chapter reviewThe Dark Archive review

My Review: An interdimensional Library, located outside the reach of Time's Arrow, hires minions to acquire by fair means or foul certain texts out there in the Multiverse for safekeeping or sequestration within its eternity-defining and -defying walls.

The idea of this series is compulsively readable to me. The experience of reading Author Cogman's thoughts about books, reading, stories and their effects and affects is addictive. But this second entry into the series suffers from a common sophomore slump in high-concept book series: The established characters have to get from one set-piece to the next somehow, and when the whole point of the story is that the core group is separated by Vast, Malign Forces, the danger of the story devolving into something that closely resembles the ghastly experience of staring into a fishtank at a rodent desperately clawing for freedom on a squeaking wheel while never making an inch of headway is very real.

Irene the Librarian (Here’s to being a secret agent of an interdimensional Library! she thinks at a crucial juncture, to my jealous loathing) runs from pillar to post attempting to save her friend/student/lust object Kai the dragon, assisted and hindered by their mutual friend Vale the detective from an alternate steampunk London. That particular alternate is the one that was introduced in the first book, The Invisible Library, which also introduced the Fae (beings of chaos) and the aforementioned dragons (beings of order). Humans fit somewhere on the fringes, the vast horde of us existing as bit players in the dramatic tales of the Fae or obedient supernumeraries in the operas of the dragons.

Except, of course, for the Librarians. The Library is a human institution that, in some kinda way, allows us mere mortals access to the Great Game played between the ancient enemies across the many, infinitely numerous in fact, alternate Earths. Since the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is eminently sensible to me, agreeing with my innate sense of the Universe's functioning, I totally buy in to stories with multiverses. This particular one has another thing I intuitively recognize as necessary, beings who walk among the multiverse's reality the way we walk among the many worlds in a forest without too much bother as to whose nest/food source/war we interrupt/alter/destroy.

Author Cogman endows these creatures with familiar attributes by making use of the fairy/fae label and the dragon label. These bits of shorthand are most useful. What is less appealing to me is the eternal barely-undeclared war between these camps. The idea of the multiverse as a continuum of highly ordered worlds to highly chaotic worlds again suits my perception of the reality of existence being a set of interlocking continua. But the Grand Conflict of Order and Chaos isn't that simple once humans get their little hineys off the chess board and into the ranks of players. There is no three-person chess, and there is no element of chance in chess; thus the multiverse is transformed into a game of Risk. (I think that damned game has ended more friendships than anything except sexual jealousy.)

And that's where the problems with this tale begin. Alliances form along predictable lines. They're never seriously challenged. In Risk, alliance shift and bonds rupture; here, the end game is the same as the initial conditions, the same players in the same configuration, and somehow a mere human (and a girl human at that!) has averted a Great War by talking.

Um, no. This is a series set in a multiverse that requires conflict to exist. That's not served by this resolution to this book's peripatetic-but-pointless dashings from pillar to post. This is a significant letdown in a series so fascinatingly conceived.

All that aside, I felt completely and utterly Understood by Author Cogman when I read this:
"...People want stories. You should know that more than anybody. They want their lives to have meaning. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. Even you, Miss Winters, want to be a heroic Librarian—don’t you? And if you’re going to say that people need to have the freedom to be unhappy, something that’s forced on them whether they like it or not, I would question your motivation.” She paused for a single deadly second. “Most people don’t want a brave new world. They want the story that they know.”
And that's why I'll buy the next book, and the next, and the one after that. I'm down for rough bits if the smooth is this far into my own personal story.

THRICE THE BRINDED CAT HATH MEW'D, a game-changing book comes eighth in the long-running Flavia de Luce series

(Flavia de Luce #8)
Delacorte Press
$26.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Hailed as “a combination of Eloise and Sherlock Holmes” by The Boston Globe, Flavia de Luce returns in a much anticipated new Christmas mystery from award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Alan Bradley.

In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.


My Review
: What?! ::incoherent word salad::
Yes, that's right, this book ended on a note that raised within me the Category 5 hurricane of outrage and indignation. I won't discuss what it was because it would make me utterly completely furious to know this turn of events before I got there and would, indeed, sour me on the read altogether.

Because it's a very sour thing that happens.

As is his habit, Author Bradley (that dreadful gong farmer {see text for this *hilarious* new old insult} whose misdeeds I'm not quickly going to forgive) starts with Flavia making wonderfully trenchant observations:
There are those persons, I suppose, who would criticize me for loving a chicken to distraction, but to them I can only say "Boo and sucks!" The love between animal and human is one that never fails, as it does so often among our own sorry tribe.
Thus Flavia on the first problem she encounters when returned from Canada to the loving embrace of her homeland and family. The combination of childish taunt with accurate character assessment of our species is the trademark thing this series offers. It's clearly a taste, and not everyone's favorite. I confess to needing a long break after As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, a most unsatisfactory entry into the series that left me disgruntled if not outright annoyed. I didn't like the silliness of the Nide and its cover story. But there one is, a long-running series must make an effort to freshen itself up if not reinvent itself or the dreaded series sag will set in.

Flavia's current case, which she must solve before the winter of 1951 ends (references are made to "His Majesty" and to Christmas, so it's before 6 February 1952 when George VI died), is the death of a strange duck named Sambridge. Flavia discovers his body in a completely unexpected way, exactly as one would expect. Being a sleuth to her core she uses her only chance to view the crime scene to observe many details but seems not to have a lot of joy from them. Her strangest find is a book that belonged or belongs to a girl with whom she's acquainted, one Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, whose ghastly pretentious artsy-fartsyness causes Flavia actual pain:
Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, her hands clasped together at her waist like lobster's claws, was singing "The Lass with the Delicate Air," and I found myself wishing that I had thought to bring a firearm with me—although whether to put Carla out of her misery or to do away with myself, I had not quite yet decided.
(That's a song I have to admit made me wince even when Julie Andrews emitted it.) But what was the dreadful Carla's book doing at the scene of old Mr. Sambridge's murder? Why was he murdered? What significance does his quite strange habit of carving weird creatures for churches have?

All in good time. This is Author Bradley's show so we'll let him elucidate his purposes in his own way and at his own pace. The usual suspects are deployed, Inspector and Mrs. Hewitt, Cynthia the vicar's wife, sisters Feely and Daffy, Dogger...all present and accounted for. New series regular, it would seem, is Mrs. Mildred Bannerman late of the Nide. Her assistance to Flavia in this case is invaluable. Why is she taking such an interest in Flavia? Is there a deeper purpose to this lady's presence in England? And what goddess placed a helper whose connections are *the*exact*ones*needed* in Flavia's pursuit of a killer?

I will say I found the resolution to the murder far-fetched and impractical, and a bit less than believable even within the heightened reality I've come to expect from the series. But the major shocker is not even to be hinted at. It is a shocker. But you'll see, series readers. Those joining the party just now: Don't start here. Nothing will make sense, none of the pleasures will please, which is a waste and a shame. Read the books in order for them to be at all worth your eyeblinks.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST, the seventh Flavia de Luce mystery.

(Flavia de Luce #7)
Delacorte Press
$26.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.

My Review: We all know by now what the deal is when we pick up a Bradley mystery: We're suspending disbelief in the premise of a school-girl who also happens to be a gifted forensic chemist, possessed of a fully stocked laboratory, and the youngest member of an astonishingly oblivious and neglectful family who leave the child alone to get on with her solving of the many murders that occur in her remote village home.

Yeah, right. Not even in postwar England (1950-ish) would a kid have that kind of freedom. But without that, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Where's the fun in that? Go with it. Surf on Bradley's wave and the reward is a mother of all waves keeping you sharp and alert lest you miss the wave's chicane.

Flavia's Aunt Felicity is somehow less, rather than more, imposing in this entry into the series. I wasn't at all sold on the Nide...its existence struck me as a bit childish...but I am fully willing to put my concerns aside. Reading these books isn't about being transported to a world one reasonably expects to exist, after all. The premise of Harriet coming home to be buried made me cringe a bit, it seemed so grisly...that said, I wasn't angered by the event once the details were known. I could see why we had to go here.

It was fun, and while I'm no convert to the idea of more books set in Toronto (a flimsy drop-curtain illusion of Toronto as the setting was), I understand why we had to be there for this story to unwind. The mystery itself, not for the first time, failed to generate much suspense in me. I suppose this is a far-reaching effect of following a long-term series, since I see it setting in on almost all my fellow series fans. The difference for me, in this series' case, is that I am still charmed by the idea of a kid solving adult crimes, and satisfied by Bradley's humor and whimsy. Seven books and counting....