Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Mentalist, anyone?

Is anyone watching the new mystery show The Mentalist? I watched the pilot online over the weekend, and I thought it had potential. The detective reminds me of Sherlock Holmes, which is always a good sign!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Link to Bones Recap: The Finger in the Nest

I haven't been happy with my Bones reviews, but I also haven't had the energy or wit lately to do the sort of recaps I've been wanting to do. I was browsing around Bones sites tonight and discovered that The Recapist does nice long recaps that are pretty awesome. So I'm going to link you to those for a while instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. Here's last week's episode, 4.04, "The Finger in the Nest."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quick Review: Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

First of all, let's get this out of the way: I am a Jane Austen fan. If you don't like Jane Austen, you probably won't like this book. That said, I am not a Jane Austen fanatic. I don't much mind when interpretations stray a bit from the canon. (I don't even mind Keira Knightley as Elizabeth.) If you are an Austen purist, you probably won't like this much either.

Now that we've established where I stand on such important issues, I can get to the point: Pride and Prescience is easily one of the best Austen pastiches I've read. The best thing was the characterization: it seemed to be spot on, especially that of Darcy. It provides a nice look at Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship in their first few weeks of marriage, but there's nothing graphic that throws the reader out of the Austenlike tone. (There is one point when Darcy asks Elizabeth to leave her hair unbound as she's getting ready for bed, and oh. My. Goodness. Be still, my heart.)

The mystery itself was decent. Not great, as "serious" mysteries go, but certainly not the worst I've read. The one slight problem I had with the book was the paranormal aspect. It was well done, but... I think it just surprised me. I kept thinking there was going to be some "explanation" of the paranormal events, but there wasn't. I mean, the mystery was solved, but there wasn't any "oh, it just seemed like magic because of such-and-such." So if you don't like paranormal mysteries (perhaps in the tradition of the Gothic novels Austen's characters read), you might not like this book. With that caveat, though, I'd definitely recommend it to Austen or Regency fans who like a good sense of humor and some playfulness of plot.

Grade: A-

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Autumn Reading

Today's question:

Autumn is starting (here in the US, anyway), and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer?

I seem to have less reading time recently, but I'm not sure how much that has to do with autumn specifically and how much is just because of some new commitments. Autumn does make me in the mood for different kinds of books - I'm much less interested in contemporary fluffy stuff, and much more interested in classics and "serious" stuff. I think this has a lot to do with the "back to school" idea - even though I'm not in school, I feel like it's time to study!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TV: Bones 4.3: The Man in the Outhouse

(Note: I'll get the review out more quickly next week, I promise. I realize I'm right under the wire here as far as my self-imposed "post review before the next episode airs" rule goes.)

I liked this second episode of Bones Much more than I did the season premiere. Agree? Disagree? Comment below and weigh in!

Plot: A trucker uses an abandoned outhouse - and it explodes. (I forget why, exactly. That part wasn't very clear.) The trucker survives, but a body is found stuck in the outhouse and Booth and Brennan are called in. They eventually figure out that the dead man is the host of a TV show dedicated to busting cheating spouses. This, of course, opens up a whole new area of potential suspects: the busted spouses (mostly husbands). The usual suspects - family, friends, coworkers - are around, too. The case is fairly straightforward, with no suggestion of a relationship to ongoing plots, but it's an entertaining one-off.

Booth/Brennan: At the beginning of the episode, Booth realizes that Brennan is dating two men at the same time, and the fallout from this is hilarious. Brennan sees nothing wrong with, or even odd about, her situation, but Booth can't even comprehend acting as she does. His Catholic faith is really reflected in his view of relationships - it's nice to see that bit of verisimilitude. Their on-and-off conversation about the situation continues throughout the episode, and Booth uses the example of the cheating spouses in the case to extol the virtues of monogamy.

Perhaps inevitably, Booth and the two men all end up meeting, hilarity ensues, and Brennan ends up single by the end of the episode. This sets up one of the cutest ever of their often-cute episode-ending scenes, in which Booth tells Brennan that he knows the one right person for her is out there and she just has to be open to seeing it, and shippers everywhere squee. Then Booth offers to buy Brennan dinner, and tells Sweets not to come along because he wants it to be just the two of them. Awww.

The Squints: There was virtually nothing about the major Hodgins/Angela drama of last week, so that was annoying. The main squint subplot revolved around the grad student of the week, Daisy, and her attempts to make Brennan like her. The other squints are alternately amused and annoyed by these efforts, and Daisy ends up getting fired. The very last scene of the episode, though, involves a very cute interaction that suggests that we may see, or at least hear about, Daisy again.

Overall Grade: A

Wednesday: What's on your shelf? (9/17)

Yay, we've made it to the middle of another week! What are you currently reading or watching? Do you like it? Add your opinions below, and we can all get some new ideas and recommendations.

I'm currently reading Mew Is for Murder by Clea Simon, and next up in the review queue is Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber. I finished Foyle's War a few weeks ago and haven't really started watching a new series yet, but I've been watching the odd Miss Marple here and there. And, of course, I'm looking forward to Bones tonight!

How about you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Agatha Christie tapes

The BBC had a story yesterday about thirteen hours of Agatha Christie audio tapes that were recently found. They seem to be notes to herself for her autobiography, and discuss aspects of both her life and her work in some detail. That link goes to the text news story, but from that page you can also listen to the radio story, which includes some clips of Christie's recordings. Her voice sounds exactly the way I'd imagined. Fun!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Classic Chandler Essay: The Simple Art of Murder

In 1944, Raymond Chandler wrote an essay about mystery fiction for the Atlantic. Thanks to that magazine's wonderful free online archive, we can read "The Simple Art of Murder" in its entirety.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The butler did... what?

Ever wonder where "The butler did it" came from? The Straight Dope investigates.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TV: Bones 4.1-2: Yanks in the UK (Part 1 and 2)

Yay, Bones is back! What did everyone think of the first episode? My (spoiler-free) thoughts below...

Plot: Booth and Brennan are in England to give speeches, but they get roped into helping their British counterparts with a few cases. The first case involves a murdered American heiress and her aristocratic British boyfriend and their complicated families. I found it a little hard to follow, but I couldn't put my finger on why. This was another one where it seemed like they came up with a punchline along the lines of "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if they were in England and had [xyz famous mystery cliche] happen?" So it was fine, but kind of... eh.

In the second hour, the murder victim was Brennan's UK counterpart himself. This case involves all sorts of delving into British academia, crew teams, industrialization vs. preservation debates, and more. Booth and Brennan do their thing - sending data and evidence back to the squints for help - and, of course, solve the case. This case was more satisfying than the first one.

Booth/Brennan: There was a lot of nonsense about Booth being completely out of his depth in England - not able to understand driving laws, incapable of successfully talking to people, generally being non-functional. This seemed completely ridiculous - he was a big important secret military sniper, right? He can't be this bumbling whenever he's put into an unfamiliar setting. It just seemed completely out of character.

There was some interesting stuff with Booth's reaction to Brennan considering getting involved with her UK counterpart. His reaction was not as unsubtle as I'd feared it would be, and I think their interaction boded well for the development of the relationship this season.

The Squints: I was less-than-thrilled with the various squint subplots this episode, too. Angela's long-lost husband finally resurfaces and throws everyone into turmoil, with results that I really didn't like. (Sorry to be vague, but I'm trying to avoid spoiling too much here.) Sweets did actually have some good insights, but isn't he supposed to be there to actually consult on cases at this point? It's kind of hilarious that this department of half a dozen people seems to need a full-time shrink just to deal with their interpersonal issues. I did like the Grad Student of the Week, but at the end of the night he announced that he was leaving because he couldn't take all the drama involved in working there. Yeah. I was kind of sympathetic with him on that one.

Overall Grade: B

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Follow us on Twitter!

Do you use Twitter? Follow us at TheMysteryShelf. You'll get updates about new posts as well as occasional other mystery-related news and links.

Review: Tippy-Toe Murder (Leslie Meier)

Tippy-Toe Murder by Leslie Meier
Kensington, 1994, 256 p.

Genre(s): Cozy; small town; mom as detective

Plot: A retired ballet teacher disappears without a trace. Then the much-disliked owner of the local hardware store is murdered. An employee he'd just fired is blamed, but Lucy Stone knows her friend Franny didn't do it - or does she? There may be more to Franny and her past than meets the eye. At the same time, Lucy starts to get an idea of where the missing woman might be, and why. The two plotlines come together in an unexpected (and slightly contrived) way, and the results, having to do with domestic abuse, child abuse, and troubled teenagers, are rather more gritty than I expected from what started out as a light cozy. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, though - it made it more realistic. But it did read a bit as though Meier had started out with an Issue for this book, rather than a plot.

Characters: This is the second Lucy Stone mystery, and the character is starting to come into her own, although I still wish she had a bit more of a distinct personality. While she's trying to solve the mysteries described above, Lucy is also dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and the strain that it has put on her marriage. This subplot makes her husband Bill come across pretty negatively in this book, although there are signs that things might be improving at the end. Lucy's kids are refreshingly realistic - her son has the Little League equivalent of stage fright, and her daughters are preparing for their first ballet recital (and, in a wonderfully realistic touch, popping the heads off their Ken dolls). Lucy's friendship with cop Barney Culpepper continues; Lucy makes sure to explain to the reader that she thinks the "rule" against married women being friends with men is ridiculous, but I liked Barney a lot more than Bill in this book, which didn't help matters. The rest of the minor characters are all fine, but there are too many of them. (See below.)

Setting: Once again, we're in the small town of Tinker's Cove, Maine. (I was slightly confused because there is talk of outlets "up north" in North Conway, which is in New Hampshire. Not that I think these things need to be kept factual, but since there are outlets in North Conway, NH, I wasn't sure if she was referring to that actual town or a fictional North Conway, ME. Not that it matters to the plot or anything.) The town manages to seem close-knit and cozy without being too idealized, which is nice. The various town issues mentioned in passing all seemed pretty realistic, and Meier avoids the trap of the overly eccentric small town characters. There are many named characters, which definitely helps the reader get a feel for the community and Lucy's roots in it, but I had trouble keeping all of her friends and their back stories straight.

Writing: The writing was fine - clear and descriptive, with very few errors. The dialogue was good, and different characters definitely had their own voices. My only issue with the writing was that both narration and dialogue seemed a bit old-fashioned at times.

Grade: A-

Friday, September 5, 2008

Quick Review: They Did It with Love (Kate Morgenroth)

They Did It with Love by Kate Morgenroth
Plume, 2007, 336 p.

This literary mystery is set amongst a book club in hoity-toity Greenwich, CT. It revolves in point of view between many characters, focusing on Sofie, a recent transplant from New York. Various secrets and complications are revealed as the characters try to figure out what happened to one of their book club members. Some of the characterization was a bit superficial and facile, but overall the book was quite good. And it had my favorite kind of ending for a mystery: it almost completely surprised me, but when I looked back at the plot, I realized it was cleverly set up all along.

Grade: A

Review Index

Here's an index, by author, of all the reviews published on this site. As the list gets longer, we may put it into a few different formats, but one list will work for now.

(Note: "Quick" after a title means it's a short review. Ideally, they will be replaced by full reviews eventually.)

Barrett, Lorna
Murder Is Binding 2008

Bebris, Carrie
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy:
Pride and Prescience 2004

Christie, Agatha
Miss Marple:
Murder at the Vicarage 1930 (quick)

Clark, Mary Higgins
Where Are You Now? 2008 (quick)

Meier, Leslie
Lucy Stone:
Tippy-Toe Murder 1994

Morgenroth, Kate
They Did It with Love 2007 (quick)

Reichs, Kathy
Temperence Brennan:
Death du Jour 1999 (quick)
Bones to Ashes 2007 (quick)

Warner, Gertrude Chandler
The Boxcar Children:
The Boxcar Children 1942

Death by Latte Cyber Party Preview

Linda Gerber has a video preview up for her cyber launch party for her upcoming YA mystery, Death by Latte. Go check it out! The first in the series, Death by Bikini, was published earlier this year.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Site Recommendation: Stop, You're Killing Me!

My very favorite mystery reference site is Stop, You're Killing Me!. (And it's been nominated for an Anthony! Yay!) If you haven't been using it, you should definitely check it out.

The backbone of the site is a huge index of mystery novels - or rather two of them, one alphabetical by author and one by character name. I have found this invaluable, particularly when I'm trying to make sure I read a series in order. (Non-series novels are covered as well.) I'm sure it's not completely comprehensive, but I can't recall ever trying to look up an author and not being able to find him or her.

And as if that weren't enough, the site has several other great indices, including the Location Index, Job Index, and Historical Index. I often use those three when I'm in the mood for a certain type of book. There's also information on award, read-alike recommendations, and more. Go check it out!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Links of the Day (9/3/08)

(This "Links of the Day" feature will list mystery-related links I've come across that are interesting but don't need a whole post.)

Irish crime writing is having some sort of Golden Age, it seems.

The Guardian's Observer column has an Autumn Crime Round-Up that discusses James Lee Burke, Barbara Vine, and Kate Atkinson. And another round-up from The Scotsman, involving Mark Billingham, Paulus Hochgatterer, and Karin Slaughter. And The Telegraph, too: Kate Atkinson, Barbara Vine, P.D. James, Irvine Welsh.

Some profiles: P.D. James, Qiu Xiaolong, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, and Kathy Reichs.

Times (London) review of the new Kate Atkinson

Telegraph review of The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine

An interview with Margaret Coel

Win a copy of Nemesis

Head over to Euro Crime to win a copy of Nemesis by Jo Nesbo!

Yes, we're back!

Hi everyone! (If anyone's still out there...) We took a bit more of a break than planned over the summer, but now that the weather is turning cooler (good reading weather!) and the fall TV series is starting up, we're back! Bones starts tonight... who will be watching with me? We'll get a recap/review up tomorrow.

Quick Review: Murder at the Vicarage (Agatha Christie)

I decided to go through and try to read all of Christie, at least in series order if not totally chronological order. I'm starting with Miss Marple, because it's completely ridiculous that I think I'd only ever read one of this series (years ago) before this one, especially as I love most of the TV adaptations. I was delighted to find that my library has a bunch of that black hardcover series of Christie that was coming out (as some sort of book club, maybe?) in the late eighties or early nineties - my mom has them, so in my head that's the way Christie is supposed to be.

Murder at the Vicarage was the first Miss Marple novel that Christie wrote, and it's clear that she hadn't quite decided what she wanted to do with the character yet. Miss Marple isn't as nice or as sympathetic a character in this novel as in the later ones. Her sleuthing abilities are recognized and respected by a few of her neighbors, but she is also sometimes resented as a busybody. I was also surprised to discover that the novel is narrated by a different character, the town vicar, Mr. Clement. I ended up really liking the vicar, and I hope that he shows up in later books. The mystery was intricately and practically perfectly plotted, as you'd expect from Christie, but as a novel, this early one was a bit rough. I did love the setting and atmosphere - a village in England between the wars.

Grade: A-