Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic. But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

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A Scandal in Scarlet – Vicki Delany

a scandal in scarlet cover

“I love owning a dog.”

Of all the book-related cosy mysteries that have become my go-to ‘palette cleanse’, easy-read choice, this series is almost certainly my favourite. Gemma Doyle is smarter than me, but I relate to her logical way of looking at the world, and both her love-life and dog ownership are thankfully kept as just a backing piece to the stories of murder and books.

The Scarlet of the title refers to a historical museum, popular with school parties and tourists in Gemma’s peaceful (well…!) little town. When a fire destroys a large part of it, local residents rally round to help raise funds for the restoration. But as Gemma soon learns, the volunteer board isn’t all sweetness and light behind the scenes…

There are a few over the top, unbelievable moments here – Gemma disguising herself to poke around asking questions, for instance – but they are played with tongue in cheek humour that does lift the slightly darker elements, from murders to adultery, and downright pantomime-ly unpleasant fellow shop owners. The author does perhaps over-do telling us about all the “dark red – scarlet” clothing etc that highlights the museum and book name, but not too irritating!

The crime element is played out very well, with plenty of twists and red herrings. More than most cosy mysteries, this really is the main thrust of the narrative. The background of location, bookstore, cake and friendship is lovely, but unlike other series I’ve tried, we’re not mainly following the romance woes, or getting minutiae of the ins and outs of pet ownership…!

Hit all the right buttons. Excellent example of the genre!

NetGalley eARC: 296 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 4
Read from 19th-26th May 2019

My rating: 8/10 – excellent example of the cosy mystery genre 🙂

Past Due for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

past due for murder cover

“It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to learn something when you turn lessons into stories.”

A Murder for the Books introduced us to Amy Webber, small town librarian caught up in a murder mystery which it turns out her research skills and logical mind are well-suited to solving. The second instalment, Shelved Under Murder, allowed both the character and the story confidence to grow, and with the third in the series I think we’ve really hit stride.

As Amy’s small town gears up to boost tourism by reintroducing the historical May Day festival, a local folklore expert’s tales of young women disappearing on the eve of May Day seems also to be revisiting the town. But as some go missing, other old faces are making unwelcome reappearances in Amy’s (love) life…

As ever, I’m less keen on the romance element that tends to accompany cosy mysteries, but actually the lack of generally fluffiness about this series helps the relationship aspect not feel too saccharine. I am still annoyed with the otherwise rational and logical character tending to fly off the emotional handle where her men are involved, but otherwise, fair ’nuff.

I can tend to be a little sniffy about cosy mysteries in my reviewing, but I actually really enjoyed this. It was a nice light and easy read, with enough going on to hold my attention and make me look forward to curling up with the book when I could. The pace does dip a little in the middle, but almost as soon as I was finding it a little ‘meh’, I hit the start of the revelations and couldn’t put the book down despite the late hour!

Looking forward to more from Amy – even if it requires a bit of her love-life along the way 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 3
Read from 28th – 31st January 2019

My rating: 7/10

Glass (2019)

glass poster

Back in 2000, M Night Shyamalan followed the huge hit that was Sixth Sense (1999) with a very understated ‘superhero’ film called Unbreakable. I vaguely recall not being very impressed at the time, although I would like to revisit it now. Then, I think it was just too slow and moody and perhaps a little bit odd for what I was expecting.

Fast forward to 2016, and I was much less critical of Split – a strange tale of multiple personality disorder that might have been more than it seemed. And, as a stinger, it was revealed at the end (not a spoiler, don’t worry!) that this was the same universe as Unbreakable… and, that we could expect a third instalment, bringing together Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), David Dunn (Bruce Willis), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Mr Glass.

The premise from the first movie – David being asked to believe he has superpowers – is picked up well, with a psychiatrist suggesting that everything is actually a delusion and can be explained rationally. But as Mr Glass plots, and the Beast returns, figuring out what’s real is the least of their problems…

I wasn’t sure how much to expect from this movie, to be honest, having had mixed views on the first two. In fact, the friend who was a huge fan of Unbreakable was a bit disappointed with this, whereas I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot is a bit so-so – a little stretching on plausibility of actions at times – but the performances are excellent. Bruce Willis only has to frown moodily through most of it, but Sam Jackson is chillingly cool, and James McAvoy is outstanding with his dozen or so personalities, switching rapidly at times and making each entirely recognisable and different. I wasn’t too impressed with the surrounding cast, but they were sufficient.

Overall, then, it wasn’t a bad way to bring the trilogy to a close, but nor did it have anything like the impact that it perhaps would have liked. It was… serviceable. Damned with faint praise, perhaps, but there ya go.

Released: 18th January 2019
Viewed: 18th January 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Campion at Christmas – Margery Allingham

campion at christmas cover

“Sir Leo Pursuivant, the Chief Constable, had been sitting in his comfortable study after a magnificent lunch and talking heavily of the sadness of Christmas while his guest, Mr Campion, most favoured of this large house-party, had been laughing at him gently.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Campion, after enjoying the tv adaptations when I was younger. Took me a long time to get around to any of the books – starting with The Crime at Black Dudley – and to be honest I’ve still only read a couple. However, a set of four short stories from Margery Allingham, based at Christmas, just sounded lovely!

And, they are quite sweet. Three of the four, On Christmas Day in the Morning, The Man with the Sack, and Word in Season,  involve Albert Campion, two of those solving mini mysteries and the other one a slice of family life with a very very large dollop of whimsy. I enjoyed all of these, picturing Peter Davison in the role, and who doesn’t love dogs with the last one? 🙂

The other story, Happy Christmas, the second in the collection, is a different beast. While clearly about Christmas, it doesn’t feature Campion and to be honest I was left scratching my head a little over what it was all about. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still a sweet little slice of period frippery, just not entirely sure what I was missing. It’s the oldest story, too, published in 1937 compared with the 1960s for the others.

If you’re a fan of Campion, this is a short but lovely little compilation of cosy mystery niceness that conjures images of a more gentile time.

NetGalley eARC: 63 pages / 4 short stories
First published: 2018 (as collection), 1937-1965 (originally in various magazines)
Series: Campion short stories
Read from 16th-17th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

The Novel Art of Murder – VM Burns

novel art of murder cover

“‘What the blazes do you mean I didn’t get the part?'”

Sam Washington’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since we first met her in The Plot is Murder, and then again in Read Herring Hunt. Her small town is in danger of turning into the new Cabot Cove (from Murder She Wrote) with yet another mysterious death, and another person close to Sam accused of murder! This time, she has just a week to save her Nana Jo from the Big House, after a rival takes her lead role in the local am-dram play…

Cosy mysteries are my snuggle up for a bit of fluff reads, and I adore books about books. Bonus with this series is Sam’s own efforts at writing a mystery – alas, these are rather the low point of the whole affair. They pad things out nicely, allow for a change of pace, and explain well Sam’s leaps of intuition over the real cases, but they also serve to make the rest of the book look great in comparison. Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie but falling quite far short, especially in dialect, and the whole sub-mystery is tied up in a sudden revelation from nowhere.

Aside from that, the book also allows Sam’s life to continue to grow as has been building in the series. Everything – aside from the murder! – is running rather wonderfully, and that too is a nice counterbalance to the ‘oh no, another death!’.

This leans heavily into the ‘cosy’, with very little in the way of peril despite a few sobbing fits from some of our leading ladies. I still love the elderly band of sleuths helping Sam, although the teenagers are all a little too nice and helpful to be realistic 😉

I like this series, but it’s probably going to remain ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’. And I’m fine with that. This one is a little better than the preceding volume, and I’d still happily reach for the next installment.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 3
Read from 12th-16th December 2018

My rating: 6/10

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

nine perfect strangers cover

“‘I’m fine,’ said the woman. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.'”

Big Little Lies was some of the best television I saw last year, and when I backtracked to the book I could see why Reese Witherspoon had been so inspired to adapt (and, imo, slightly improve) it. So it was a no-brainer to request author Liane Moriarty’s new book, Nine Perfect Strangers, when it appeared on NetGalley.

Tranquillum is a health resort which promises to improve your life, changing it for the better in just ten days. Too good to be true? It’s alluring enough for a group of strangers to each head there, hoping to fix their marriages, their careers, or just themselves. At first the spa treatments and meditation, fasting and tai chi, are all par for the course. But Tranquillum’s owner, Masha, has some dark secrets in her own past…

Chapters switch points of view between the different guests, Masha and a few members of staff, giving different layers of insight into events that brought everyone together and add to their reasons for signing up for a ‘transformation’. Background is layered through the ongoing story, adding mini ‘reveals’ to rather more mundane mysteries that are every day – if not entirely ordinary – lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers (although argument on the title, as they aren’t all strangers – there’s a couple and a family ;)). The mystery wasn’t quite what I’d guessed, but also didn’t surprise me too much – to be honest, it wasn’t quite as thrilling or shocking as I expected. In lesser hands that probably would have ruined the book for me, but the strength here is bigger than just the plot line. The characters are well-sketched – you don’t get too much time with any of them, considering – really drawing you in to their lives, their woes, and the reasons for them being here. In fact, almost 10% of the book is the ‘after’, which you’d think would be padding, but by this point I really wanted to know what happened to everyone.

So, perhaps not quite what I was expecting but thoroughly engrossing. I even quite fancy a spa/meditation/wellness retreat myself – although, probably not one like this 😉 Also looking forward to the movie or TV adaptation that looks to be in the works!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 76 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 29th September –  5th October 2018

My rating: 9/10