Flavia de Luce returns with The Golden Tresses of the Dead, which starts with a macabre discovery in her sister’s wedding cake and ends with suspicious evangelizing nuns. Dogger, the shell-shocked gardener, has become her partner in her official private investigation venture and serves as a wonderful foil and mentor.
The Bookshop is a delightful, albeit sad story of a widow who, having opened a surprisingly successful bookshop in a small town in the 50’s, finds herself driven out of business and indeed out of town by the vengeful local gentry. The book describes the minute intrigues of a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and changes are not welcome. It also exposes the surprisingly strong class differences and how they play out. And of course it reminds us of a time not so long ago when a small town could function in utter isolation, controlled by antiquated rules and social structures.
Fall of Angels opens dramatically, with a young female trumpet player falling spectacularly (and suspiciously) to a bruised but happily non-dead state. Inspector Redfyre is on the premises, lured by a free ticket his aunt gave him. So he starts investigating, and in due course more young women turn up dead in 1920s Cambridge (England), prompting panic and a renewed urgency to the investigation, which seems to yield many secrets but not many tangible clues.
The plot is satisfyingly twisted but what made the book for me were the many comments about the effects of WWI, rules of etiquette, the misogynistic practices of the university (no degrees for women!), and early feminist efforts. The story brings to mind Gaudy Night, but in a more modern and utterly enjoyable form.
The heroine of Everything Under grew up on a houseboat with an unstable and likely mentally ill mother who eventually abandoned her. Decades later, her mother reappears and she revisits her surprisingly hazy memories, including what I found to be a very tiresome retelling of the Oedipus story, drowning in fog and rain.
Curtain is Hercule Poirot’s last case–and indeed he dies at the end. He has returned to the vast English country house where he solved his first murder and has identified a guest as not just a killer, but a serial killer, with cunning powers over others. Since proving the accusations will be nigh impossible, he makes it his mission to prevent the next death, at great risk to himself.
Part history, part society pages, The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy describes dozens of young American women whose family’s lack of pedigree marooned them from fashionable society in New York but whose wealth was eminently attractive to impoverished British aristocrats. After marrying, their titles opened them, and their parents, a place in the surprisingly closed New York high society, which their mothers knew very well, and had worked to achieve, sometimes at the expense of the daughters.
It was not all fun and games. They often discovered that the wonderful castles of their new husbands were unheated hovels when it came to modern conveniences, and staffed by servants that nursed contempt for their naivete, while their new husbands were very free with their marital vows.
The book sometimes veers into a gossip column (and after a few chapters some of the women start to blend together) but it draws an interesting portrait of two elites in need of each other.
The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place is the latest Flavia De Luce mystery, in which she finds a corpse and proceeds to identify both the murderer and a wrongly-convicted one. The usual chemistry high jinks abound, accompanied here by copious literary quotes, maybe a little too precious? But fun, as fun as a book with a murdered young man could pretend to be.
Gaudy Night is simply the reunion at the first women’s college in Oxford, and it’s the start of a series of pranks and threatening letters that cause the dean to ask one of the alumnae, a mystery writer, to investigate. The action moves slowly along 523 pages, with minute descriptions of the various professors and students, the quaint customs and schedule of the college, and the 1935 sexism that characterizes the college system, town, and society as a whole. So slowly that I found the main pleasure of the book to lie in its descriptions of a time long past, when female college students were carefully watched after 11pm (not that they did not manage to work around it!) and only a handful would get to have a professional life. That said, the overall intrigue is marred by the fact that our fearless heroine is, in fact, obliged to bring her (male) lover to untangle the mystery. Is her brain too feeble for this?
Can I say that a book is hilarious when it talks about the lonely death of the author’s addicted sister? And his late mother, who seemed to have drunk herself to death? That’s part of the charm of David Sedaris’s latest collection of stories , strangely named Calypso (he has a track record of strange titles): he is not afraid to talk about the sad parts of life, and talk about them again. That’s not to say that there are not purely (or mostly) happy moments in the book: playing Sorry with his ruthless niece, feeding the neighborhood fox on the sly, or constructing a perfect couple for the benefits of house guests. The descriptions of the relationship with his boyfriend is indeed one of the pleasures of the book, with all the silly little wars that long-term partners can wage in between the realization that he is, actually, a very good person.
Do you think of Victorians as repressed and always perfectly proper individuals, Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum may change your mind. The author tells five stories that illuminate how they looked at out-of-wedlock pregnancies, the power of women to choose mates, the importance of social class, and child violence. What I liked the most about the book was the way the author could start talking, say, about a suspicion of pregnancy in one of young Queen Victoria’s lady attendants, and take us right into the shenanigans and intrigue of the court, including the very undignified behavior of Queen Victoria herself, who, it seemed, started quite wild before becoming o so proper.
That said, the book is a tad long and discursive.