The Harbour Lights Mystery (Shell House Detectives #2)

By Emylia Hall

Rating: 4 stars

The second book in this modern mystery series takes place the winter after the previous book, with Ally and her young friend Jayden having established a bit of a name for themselves in the local area as the Shell House Detectives. A fiery chef is murdered in the nearby village of Mousehole (which is apparently an actual real place, as is Tom Bawcock’s Eve, around which the action takes place) and although the Shell House Detectives don’t want to get involved, the fact that the murdered man may turn out to be their friend Saffron’s absent father brings them into it.

I continued to enjoy the friendship between recently widowed older woman, Ally, and new father Jayden as this adventure tests the boundaries of that friendship. There wasn’t nearly as much Gus as I would have liked, as Ally struggles with any potential feelings she may or may not have for him. Mullins still really tries to be a “loveable rogue” while still being just a bit of a dick (but getting better at not being so). We see a bit into Jayden’s marriage and seeds are obviously being planted for future storylines there.

The murder itself and its solution is a bit of a damp squib, and gets solved pretty much by accident, without any active work from either the protagonists or the police. But then this series seems to be much more about the characters than the crimes. It’s about Ally coming out of her shell; Jayden’s deep love of fatherhood; Saffron’s grief; and the relationships between all of them. There’s a few too many side characters, each with their own PoV chapters, but it’s still a very pleasant read, and I’ll probably dive into the next one too.

Book details

ISBN: 9781662505140
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Year of publication: 2023

The Shell House Detectives (Shell House Detectives #1)

By Emylia Hall

Rating: 4 stars

This cosy detective story is set on the Cornish coast, and uses that setting to great effect. Ally is recently widowed and being pressured by her grown up daughter to join her family in Sydney. Jayden has left the Leeds police and has moved back to where his wife grew up, and is anticipating new fatherhood. They have a chance encounter at what appears to be a suicide attempt on the beach, which draws them together into a larger mystery, involving a missing woman.

I liked both the major protagonists here, although chapters did flit between PoVs beyond Ally and Jayden. We also see into the rich, sociopathic husband of the missing woman, a local cafe owner and the local bobby amongst others. At times, the number of PoVs feels oppressive, but Hall mostly pulls it off. And she is good at ensuring that each character has a distinct voice.

Jayden did, briefly, make me think of a certain other mixed-race police officer, but beyond his race, and his impending fatherhood, there’s very little to connect him with London’s favourite apprentice wizard, Peter Grant. There’s a reason that he’s left the police though, and this is teased out over the course of the book.

I got this through the Amazon First Reads programme, and it seems that the programme is doing the promotional work it was intended to, as I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel!

Book details

ISBN: 9781662505133
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Year of publication: 2023

The Labours of Hercules (Hercule Poirot, #27)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

This is a fun collection of loosely connected short stories. The great Hercule Poirot is getting on a bit and thinking about retirement (and marrows). But first he’s going to go out in style, by taking on twelve carefully selected cases, each one mirroring one of the famous Labours of his classical namesake, Hercules.

The cases are lovely little stories, for the most part. Christie manages to construct surprisingly intricate stories, for the size of them, with only a couple of them feeling morally dubious to me (the one where Poirot gets the PM out of hot water with the media made me feel grubby, in particular). It did make me realise that I’m not as familiar with Greek myth as I thought I was as I had to google (or infer) several of the classical Labours.

Even in short stories, where there’s not as much build-up as is possible in a novel, I stayed true to type and resolutely failed to figure out whodunnit in any of the stories (although I came close once or twice). But if the journey is the point, I had fun travelling with the Great Detective.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006141969
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1976

Tall Tales & Witchy Fails (Witch on the Rocks, #1)

By Lily Harper Hart

Rating: 4 stars

A fairly lightweight, fluffy book about a witch who own a beach-side tiki bar (thanks to being run over in golf cart by the billionaire who owns the resort). There’s a missing girl, who multiplies into five missing girls, a hunky PI and fairly low stakes. It does take an unexpectedly dark turn towards the end as the two protagonists discuss torturing their suspect, and a few plot threads that don’t really go anywhere (like the mind block on the other brodude). The author is also way too fond of the word “drawled”, which got a bit annoying. Hopefully her editor will rap her knuckles to break that habit in future volumes.

I’d wondered if this is the kind of series where the couple get together by the end of the first book and have half a dozen kids by half way through the series. For the record (and apologies if it’s a spoiler for anyone), it’s not, and they’re still smouldering at each other by the end, and refusing to admit their mutual attraction (even though everyone around them can see it).

This is entirely the sort of series that Kindle Unlimted is designed for. I finished this one and had the second downloaded and started pretty much immediately.

Book details

Publisher: HarperHart Publications

At Amberleaf Fair

By Phyllis Ann Karr

Rating: 4 stars

The toymaker Torin has just had his marriage proposal rejected in favour of that from one of his best friends. His day gets worse, however, as his brother, Talmar, the High Wizard, falls ill, and then his friend’s marriage token goes missing, and Torin is the prime suspect. He has to work to clear his name, all the while worrying about his brother, and his own future marriage prospects.

I really enjoyed this book – in the afterword, the author calls Torin’s world “The Gentle World”, and I very much agree with this characterisation. The whole book is really gentle – nothing really bad happens at all. People are still arrogant, proud and impetuous, but there seems to be no real malicious intent in any character.

It took me a while to get into the flow of it, but once you do, it’s a pleasure to read. The narrative is split between Torin, the storyteller Dylis, and the judge Alrathe and it’s it’s fun to read to build up a picture of the world that the characters inhabit as they go about their lives. There were hints within the text that got me wondering, and again, the afterword confirmed that this is a far-future Earth, rather than secondary world fantasy, albeit one where Clarke’s Third Law is in full swing.

A lot of the book is focussed on Torin’s choice to break from generations of his family to be a toymaker, not a magic-monger. This decision is being tested by his brother’s illness and Talmar’s desire to have Torin come back into the “family business” if he dies. Torin spends a lot of the book agonising over this decision, of how he wants to spend his life, versus what others expect of him. That, not the theft, is the greatest intrigue for me, and I had great sympathy for his plight.

This is a good comfort book. It’s got a gentle mystery, romance and everything is All Right In The End. Delightful.

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Spotlight (Miss Silver, #12)

By Patricia Wentworth

Rating: 4 stars

I was recommended Patricia Wentworth after reading an Ngaio Marsh book a few months ago. Having had various issues with that one, I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Wentworth.

Gregory Porlock is a blackmailer, who invites the various people he’s got stuff on to his home for a dinner party. He obviously goads someone too far, and he is murdered during the course of the evening. Miss Silver gets involved through a set of unlikely events and, in between bouts of knitting, soon sets things to rights.

I enjoyed this an awful lot. Wentworth sets the stage carefully, introducing us to Porlock and each of his guests and making us dislike the man intensely. The murder doesn’t happen until over a hundred pages in, and then the police investigation is the focus for quite some time. It’s not until well over half way through the book that Miss Silver makes her main entrance (although she’d had a cameo earlier).

I loved the interplay between her and police sergeant Frank Abbott. By this point in the series, Miss Silver is a known feature at Scotland Yard and the young Frank has taken a great shine to her, calling her his “revered preceptress”. His boss, chief inspector Lamb is less affectionate, but still respects her abilities a lot.

It was a great story, with good characterisation, and I’m impressed with how deftly Wentworth handled a large cast. I wasn’t wild about the very paternalistic relationship between Dorinda Brown and her cousin, Justin Leigh, but it’s very much of the period. Anyway, I shall definitely be looking out for more of Miss Silver’s handiwork.

Book details

ISBN: 9780340178331

In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns (Sub-Inspector Ferron Mysteries #1)

By Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 4 stars

This novella introduces us to Sub-Inspector Ferron, a detective whose latest case involves a person who has been literally turned inside out. And the only witness is a genetically engineered cat who’s been wiped (and ends up re-imprinting on Ferron). Set in a future India, we get brief, tantalising glimpses of a fractured world as Ferron and her lieutenant, constable Indrapramit, try to find out who could have killed the victim, and what their motive could have been. At the same time, she has to deal with her overbearing mother, and there are rumours of unusual activity in the region of the Andromeda galaxy.

There’ a lot packed into this novella. The world-building of the future that it’s set in is impeccable and very deftly handled. Throwing in parrot-cats, breakdown of nation states, immersive virtual reality and much more, while keeping us grounded with Ferron and Indrapramit. In amongst all this, the actual murder actually gets a little lost. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t figure out who did it (I never do), but I still don’t really think I understand the why of it and what actually happened. But then, does it really matter, with such a wonderful world, and the intrigue of a signal from the stars?

Book details

Murder in Mesopotamia

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

Amy Leatheran is brought in as a nurse to the wife of an eminent archaeologist who is on a dig in Iraq. Nurse Leatheran senses that all is not well on the dig, but is still shocked when there’s a murder. Thankfully, Hercule Poirot is in the vicinity and is called in to assist on the case.

I really enjoyed this mystery, with its evocative setting and intriguing characters. As Poirot says, the key to the murder is the psychology of the situation – especially that of the victim, and how her personality affected those around her.

The book is narrated in the first person by nurse Leatheran, who is a fun character to have in that role. She’s very prim and proper, and has the appropriate amount of British distrust of foreigners, although she does fall into playing the Hastings/Watson role with remarkable ease.

Something that I thought was quite odd was how unsympathetically that the female characters in the book spoke about other women. There are several women involved, starting with nurse Leatheran, and all of them often speak badly about both specific other women, and the female sex generally. I wouldn’t have been surprised by this if the book had been written by a man, but it wasn’t. Both Mrs Leidner, the woman that nurse Leatheran is here to look after, and Mrs Mercado, the wife of another member of the dig team, are described in particularly, one might say, catty, terms.

But leaving that aside, the mystery was intriguing, I enjoyed the characters a lot and, as usual, I completely failed to figure out whodunnit.

Book details

Publisher: Pan Books in association with Collins
Year of publication: 1981

Amongst Our Weapons (Rivers of London, #9)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb, I initially thought this was going to be a locked room murder – with a murder being perpetrated in the London Silver Vaults, but it turns out those (which are a real thing) have been opened up and turned into a shopping arcade, so the door was wide open. What we actually get is a thriller of a story as seven former prayer circle members, all with certain platinum rings, are being picked off, one by one. And yes, of course Peter makes the requisite Tolkien jokes.

Alongside the investigation, there are the elaborate preparations around Beverly’s pregnancy and the twins that she’s carrying. This gives us a different view into Lady Ty, now that she’s going to be an auntie. Less the terrifying political player and more, well, human. In a different way, that’s also true of DCI Seawoll, as the investigation takes the Met up to his home territory, around Manchester and we get to spend some time with him, and even his father.

Aaronovitch is slowly expanding his wizarding world. Peter is eager to deepen his US links, and expand them to the Continent as well, and re-establish the broken connections with the Sons of Weyland and bring their engineering expertise back into the Society of the Wise. Personally, that’s the sort of stuff that I’m more interested in. The crime-of-the-week in the book is there to drive these things, but isn’t as interesting to me as the world and the people in it. But after nine books, as many graphic novels and several novellas and short stories, I would imagine (and, indeed, hope) that I’ve come to care for the characters as people, not just mcguffin-solving machines.

The edition I read was the Waterstones one that has a short story included, Miroslav’s Fabulous Hand. This, along with a couple of references in the main book, shed new light on Nightingale’s chapter of Monday, Monday, the last graphic novel, and gives us the backstory to the pre-WW2 mission that Nightingale had been on when he was apprehended, as we see in that story.

Speaking of Nightingale, his announcement at the end made me sit up! It’ll be interesting to see what the implications of this are. I imagine it won’t stay secret for long, so I wonder how the demi-monde will react. And if it’ll have the effect on Peter that he wants.

So another really fun story in an evergreen series that I thoroughly enjoy. The one thing in the books that makes me uneasy is the black and white way that the Metropolitan Police is presented. They’re very much the Good Guys, swooping in to save the people of London from whatever befalls them. In the real world, the Met’s reputation is substantially more tarnished than that. Between corruption, institutional racism, servicing officers abusing and murdering women and the ongoing Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, it’s disappointing that there’s not much referencing any of these.

Notwithstanding that, which I can understand – these are fairly fluffy books, and I can see why Aaronovitch might want to keep real world ugliness out of them – it was a whole lot of fun, and I look forward to the next one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781399603096
Publisher: Orion
Year of publication: 2022

The Red House Mystery

By A.A. Milne

Rating: 4 stars

I had been completely unaware of A. A. Milne’s work beyond Winnie the Pooh until a chance reference to this on, of all places, File 770. I was intrigued and when I found out it was out of copyright and available on Project Gutenberg, I grabbed it, and I’m glad I did.

It’s a locked room mystery, with our amateur detective, Anthony Gillingham, wandering on to the scene by coincidence, just after the death of the brother of Mark Ablett, the owner of the titular Red House. We follow Anthony as he gets to grips with the people and the events, with his friend Bill as the Watson to his Holmes.

The book had actually kicked off from the point of view of the housemaid, and I’d wondered if we were going to going to get something more understanding of the household staff, but after that first chapter, they are left far behind. Although incidentally, I do think there’s an interesting story to be told from that angle – after all, in this period, who notices the servants? I had high hopes of the film Gosford Park for this, but it was more interested in the upstairs/downstairs social shenanigans than the mystery angle.

But putting that to one side and taking it as it was, I enjoyed this a lot. There was enough information revealed to the reader at the same time as the protagonist that I could keep coming up with the same sort of theories that Anthony was and although it was fairly clear who the murderer was fairly early on, the how and the why were left to the final chapter, as in any good whodunnit.

I enjoyed Anthony as a protagonist. He was a fun character and I sort of wish that Milne had written more stories with him. The idea of someone getting an inheritance and then using it to take on all sorts of careers, keeping them up for as long as he wanted, tobacconist and waiter being but two of his former professions, and having the security to move on when it stopped being fun. I think many people would envy that. It also helps that he’s a really nice chap too.

So an enjoyable whodunnit, well told and set in the heart of the Edwardian period (or the modern day, as it would have been at the time). He’s not written an awful lot of other novels, but off the back of this, I’d definitely be interested in seeking some of his others out.

Book details

Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Year of publication: 1999

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