Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Crime in Process 2: Book, Line and Sinker

As a librarian, I am contractually obligated to read every book featuring a librarian. The Awful Library Books blog features some humdingers about lusty librarians.

So, imagine my surprise when I found a cozy mystery series featuring a competent librarian who also FIGHTS CRIME.
Book, Line and Sinker was released this December and is the third book in the Library Lover's Mystery series. Can't wait to start reading! And catalogue it. And shelf it. And check it out to people. And put it on a booklist. And collect circulation stats on it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Princess Elizabeth's Spy

The indomitable Maggie Hope from Mr Churchill's Secretary is back in a new adventure where Princess Elizabeth bites a Nazi:

Genre: Historical
POV: Third Person Omniscient
Detective: Maggie Hope - American mathematician and spy
Setting: WWII England
Fusspot Inner Great Aunt Sexy Times Alarm: As unobjectionable as a blancmange 

Maggie Hope, who we last saw dismantling IRA bombs in St. Paul's Cathedral, has flunked out of spy school. Brilliant mathematician she may be but her superiors think it unlikely that she'd be able to outrun a toddler in the field. Demoted, she is sent packing to Windsor Castle to play Jane Eyre to the young royal princesses.

Princess Elizabeth: Badass
Between teaching the young princesses secret codes, Maggie is tasked with smoking out a spy in the hallowed royal halls. She isn't there long before a gruesome murder alerts her to the fact that something is rotten in Windsor Castle. And it isn't the turnip pie.
I would recommend Princess Elizabeth's Spy to: Fans of the brilliant Foyle's War television series. Although less in this book than the first, there are lovely details about life on the home front. This book is much more spy vs spy than Mr. Churchill's Secretary. Maggie fights the oppressive bureaucracy and sexism of MI-5 to get the pieces of the puzzle she needs to save the country from a terrible plot. There's also the wrenching news that John, her love interest from the last book, is MIA in Germany. And Hugh, her new potential gentleman caller and handler from MI-5, embroils her further in her parent's personal drama (highlight for spoilers: Her German-spy mother killed Hugh's father. So, some potentially awkward Christmas dinners for sure).

I would not recommend this book to: People who loathe omescient third person. Unfortunately, I am one of these people. Shifting multiple POVs in a mystery novel can be done effectively. It can build suspense (you see the villain closing in on our hero and they are running out of time!) or help the reader piece together parts of the mystery that the detective will never have access to (Ah. So that's why Mr. Pickett knit his cat a sweater).

But if clumsily handled, it can be an unending source of frustration as the reader end up thinking the detective is a class A idiot for not figuring it out sooner. Or the entire book becomes an excruciating plod until the detective catches up to where the reader has been patiently waiting for chapters and has already eaten most of the narrative picnic.

The plot also got a little twee and out of hand for me (highlight for spoilers: With the king getting shot and then Princess Elizabeth, Maggie and David being kidnapped and then shunted onto a Nazi submarine before escaping the middle of the channel by the Royal Navy but not after Princess Elizabeth bites a  Nazi). Consider my credibility stretched.

If you like the Maggie Hope Mysteries: Try the brilliant thriller Enigma by Robert Harris. Set in the English code-breaker headquarters at Bletchley Park, it features the brilliant mathematician, Jericho, who is recovering from a nervous breakdown after a love affairs turned sour. When his former lover disappears and is branded a spy, Jericho is determined to discover the truth in the matter and discovers a dark conspiracy that could bring down the entire British war effort.

Also made into a fantastic movie featuring Kate Winslet in the cutest 1940s glasses you've ever seen.

Solve all the crimes, Kate Winslet
And what does one drink while undercover tutoring Princess Elizabeth and hunting double agents?

Why, Keep Calm and Carry On tea, of course.

Final Grade: 6/10

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hounds of the Book-ervilles

Was just about to snuggle up with the pillowesque hounds to finish up Susan Elia MacNeal's Princess Elizabeth's Spy when I was struck by a little mystery of my own.

Some professions fall heavily on one side of the cats vs dogs picket fence on contention. Junk yard owners are usually pro-dogs. Librarians are traditionally cat snugglers. Rugged mountaineers are fond of their St Bernards. Professional ladies in upscale cat food commercials love their cats. But what about detectives? I would like to think that they're dog people.

Off the top of my head, I could think of a few literary dog sidekicks:

Snowy - Intrepid sidekick to Tintin, explorer/journalist (did he ever write a single word in the entire series?)

The Littlest Hobo - Greatest Canadian detective of all time

Toby - Sherlock Holmes' go-to nose in The Sign of the Four

Diefenbaker - Blind half-wolf from Due South

The long-suffering Asta - owned by the perpetually tipsy Nick and Nora from the Thin Man films

Am I missing famous canines? Or are detectives really felonious for felines?

Just because, here's the best drunken Nick and Nora moments. Notice poor Asta keeping that entire family afloat:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Good Night, Mr. Holmes

The current forecast for my corner of the world tonight is "Freezing Fog Warning."

Freezing fog? What is that even?

Instead of mulling on the fact that I'm apparently about to become an extra in a Stephen King penned SyFy Monster Movie of the Week, I choose to ponder instead one of my favourite detectives from the foggy city of London: Irene Adler.

Oh yes, you read correctly. Not the pipe-puffing, Watson-berating Holmes but "the woman."

The Irene Adler series by the indomitable Carole Nelson Douglas features "the woman" from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia. Irene Adler is one of the most celebrated, pick-apart and discussed female characters in the Holmes canon (almost by default as there are so few to choose from). She is infamous for besting Holmes and getting unceremoniously killed off at the end of the story.

Brushing aside Doyle's inability to let that much awesome exist in his literary universe, Nelson transforms Adler into a complex, nuanced woman and fine detective in her own right.

Tonight's swirling fog reminds me of the opening scene in Good Night, Mr. Holmes where our suddenly jobless Lady-Watson, Miss Penelope "Nell" Huxleigh, walks the frozen, foggy streets of Victorian London.

Not this Lady Watson but equally as awesome
Daughter of a Shropshire parson, Nell is quite unprepared for the dangers of London or falling in with a dashing American adventuress. She is quickly swept up into Adler's world of Oscar Wilde, theater, Bram Stoker, buried inheritances, midnight escapes, daring disguises, the ruthless King of Bohemia (who really should have put a ring on it) and the cold, calculating deduction machine, Sherlock Holmes.

Genre: Historical
POV: First person
Detective: Irene "The Woman" Adler and her Lady-Watson, Penelope "Nell" Huxleigh
Setting: Victorian England
Fusspot Inner Great Aunt Sexy Times Alarm: Miss Huxleigh keeps a lid on that sort of unseemly nonsense

I would recommend the Irene Adler series to: Sherlock Holmes fan looking for something a little more lady-friendly. These stories are a fresh, surprisingly funny Victorian mystery with atmosphere to spare. At the heart of the series, is the friendship between Irene and Nell. For those looking for an Irene Adler whose more than a sex object or love interest (TM) who exists solely to make Holmes FEEEEEEEL, this is a welcome addition to the Holmes fan canon.

I don't specify what Adler is making Holmes FEEEEEEL
I would not recommend this book to: People who hate lady detectives writing in a chatty first person, readers who loath Victorian England after being forced to read too much Dickens or who are sick of reading/watching/listening Sherlock Holmes or seeing gifs of Benedict Cumberbatch's face.

If you like the amazing Irene Adler series, you should put these on hold: Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series.

Miss Huxleigh Tea Tray Contains: One of the joys of the series is the continual clash between the upright Old World Miss Huxleigh and the New World of Americans who don't like to wear corsets. But between the petty insults, there is a real friendship between them that starts on the mean streets of London, that foggy night when someone almost absconds away with Miss Huxleigh's carpet bag, only to be stopped by Irene's foul language.

The perfect tea for a night like that (or any other night with a frozen fog warning) is something that will warm you from the inside out. Such a magical potion can be found at the Banff Tea Co.'s in their delicious Chocolate Chili Chai.

The chai represents the Victoria obsession with all things Indian (except for their rights and political systems and economy, etc, etc). The chocolate represents the sweet Miss Huxleigh and the spicy chili is just as kicky as the "the woman" herself. It is a tea that warms you right down to your toes - just like Good Night, Mr. Holmes. 

Final Grade: 9/10

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: The Strange Case of Fremont Jones

Welcome to the first Cozy Crime time review! The paramount book on the chopping block is The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day.
Giant Dragon Ball Lamp: Conversation piece and potent symbol for your living room
Genre: Historical, romantical  
POV: First person  
Detective: (Caroline) Fremont Jones - Typewriter, small business woman and knife-cane owner
Setting: Turn-of-the-century San Francisco
Fusspot Inner Great Aunt Sexy Times Alarm: Raised eyebrows (two) and tsking 
(Caroline) Fremont Jones is a sensible young woman. So when her father decides to remarry an insipid lady who thinks that cucumber sandwhiches are the height of fashion and has some very strange ideas about marrying Fremont off to her nephew, she does the only sensible thing. She heads west and forges a new life in San Fransisco sans gibbering nephew.

She opens a typewriting shop and soon has a host of interesting clients. There's Justin Cameron, the charming lawyer whose smile melts her heart. The troubled young writer who drops off a manuscript of deeply disturbing stories in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe which he swears are true and then disappears. Li Wong, the elderly tong leader, who is murdered days after dictating a will in her shop. And finally, there is Michael Archer who may or may not be a Russian spy.
Typewriting: More exciting than you might think
Soon Fremont is embroiled in murder, kidnapping and missing wills. One of her customers holds the key to a fortune and the other to a terrible secret.

I would recommend The Strange Files of Fremont Jones to: Anyone who enjoys historical mysteries with strong-willed heroines with a little sexy times. Readers who thought that Edgar Allen Poe needed more demon frogs.

I would not recommend this book to: Readers who are not fans of the first person POV. Even though the book is from Fremont's POV, I had a hard time following her decisions or feelings. It sometimes felt like following a scavenger hunt of clues through someone's brain who didn't really want you to find the treasure and instead wanted to send you to the shop to get them some bread. There's also a fair bit of purple prose (especially during the sexy times) and some eye-rolling stupidity on the part of the heroine.

If you like Fremont Jones: The Arcane series by Amanda Quick. Sassy heroines, dark secrets and making out in greenhouses.

The perfect tea to read while walking the foggy streets of San Fransisco with Fremont: In one of the book's most thrilling scenes, Fremont ventures into Chinatown to meet the wife of the tong leader, Li Wong. There's some wonderful historical detail about the Chinese in early California and some delicious tea.

Lapsang Souchong is the first tea is recorded history. This musky, smoky tea hails from the Fuijian Province in China. It is roasted over pinewood smoke which gives the tea its distinctly woody flavour. It tastes like a woodsman's boot. But a delicious woodsman's boot.

The Chinese Tea Shop in Vancouver (a must-see if you're even in Vancouver. The owner is a tea wizard who also demonstrates traditional tea ceremonies in the shop) stocks an amazing variety of Lapsang Souchong teas that will put your right in Fremont's shoes.

Final Grade: 6.5/10

Crime in Progress 1: The Twelve Clues of Christmas

Crime in Progress will feature new and upcoming mysteries of note. 

Our first in the feature is the latest in Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness Mystery series featuring the indomitable Lady Georgiana Rannoch. Despite being a few heartbeats away from inheriting the British throne, Georgiana doesn't have two pounds to rub together. Out but not down, she decides to become a maid for the families that she rubs shoulders with at fancy high society parties.

Domestic by day, she's a servant for king and country during the night. Her relative, the Queen, uses Lady Georgie's connections for a spot of high class spying and mystery solving.
I admire the self-control is takes to wear that backless a dress in that weather. 1930s radiators were more theoretical than practical
The Twelve Clues of Christmas is the sixth in the series and I wouldn't mind seeing it under my tree.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Welcome to Cozy Crime Time

“I love murder! Wait. I mean literary murder. Murder in books. And I don’t enjoy it. Book murder. I don’t murder people. I swear.”

- Miss Corene 
 In the words of your local, friendly neighborhood writer spider, greetings and salutations!

Welcome to the Cozy Crime Time blog. A new mystery book review blog with a little television snuck in for good measure. While I want to primarily focus on promoting the criminally under-appreciated cozy genre because I am a sensitive snowflake. A few STAB! STAB! STAB! titles might sneak in - as long as everything ends in a tea party.

I am Miss Corene and I was convinced that I was going to be Nancy Drew when I grew up. Instead (but just a good) I became a librarian, a detective of books. I am proud owner of a deerstalker hat, librarian glasses and a master food thief, Pekoe.
She doesn’t so much solve crime as solve my complex system of hiding food away from her
Pull up a chair, a warm cup of tea and an axe and let’s explore the dark underbelly of civilizations together.
Is that supposed to be an insult? Because Nancy Drew solved every case.

- Castle