The Summer Before The War is packaged as a vintage novel, with the local gentry in a small town controlling much of the institutions and everyone else barely getting by. But it is, in fact, a modern novel with a feminist twist, embodied in a brainy Latin teacher and her protector, an influential older woman who is working behind the scenes to open opportunities to women. Despite the sometimes awkward juxtaposition of the traditional style of the novel and the dogged feminist themes, it’s an engrossing story with some wonderful scenes, most starring the mayor and especially his ambitious and terminally conventional wife. Enjoy!
(Also read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by the same author.)
I’m going to say that Thing We Have In Common is a mystery, since it contains a crime, and a serious one, the disappearance of a teenager, but the focus is on one of her classmates, a fat, friendless, and bullied classmate who is fascinated by the popular girl and convinced that a mysterious man is watching her and may bring her harm. The action is mostly in the girl’s mind, with short interactions with her mother and stepfather — and eventually the police. The peculiar logic of teenagers is perfectly captured, all the way to the disturbing, unsettled ending.
Original Sin takes us inside a family owned book publisher where lots of people are dying, some suspicisouly enough to demand an investigation from Adam Dalgliesh and team. The setting, an incongruous Venetian palace on the banks of the Thames, lends mystery and gloominess to the mounting corpse count and in the end it will be a very complex personal revenge story that will tie together the murders. Prepare to be deliciously afraid.
Alert to you packrats: it may be a good idea to dispose of old correspondence before leaving this earth. Otherwise, your bereaved widow may plow through it to write the story of your life before you met her. (Of course, this presumes that (1) you wrote and received actual letters, you know, the kind with stamps on it, which few people do these days and (2) your widow writes biographies for a living.) The Life-Writer delves into her husband’s lost first love in exquisite, painful, and obsessive detail, culminating in a meeting with the French woman he loved and lost. A perfect book for ruminators. For me, not so much but I was carried through the first half, and maybe farther, by the beautiful examination of the woman’s grief.
Flavia de Luce returns to the UK after a disastrous stay in Canada and finds another body on her first day back, the identity and manner of death of which will occupy her for the rest of the book, while her father lies very ill. She is older now so can take the train to London to pursue her investigations, and her sisters barely appear in the story. There’s less chemistry than in earlier books and more traditional deductive powers. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but I’m not sure it has the same power of surprise that others in the series have had.
A brilliant lawyer is found dead in her office and there are many suspects, including a criminal she defended, her ex-lover who worries about his reputation in politics (more than his pregnant wife, sadly), jealous colleagues and coworkers, and the relatives of victims killed by people she defended successfully. A Certain Justice
unravels the complicated relationships and finds the murderer, but can it prove it?
A delightfully intricate story with a vast cast of characters, including a surly young adult daughter who is pictured perfectly.
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer starts with a brutal matricide, which the author meticulously reconstructs from archives, followed by the dispatch of the murderer, aged 13, to an insane asylum, and eventually his immigration to Australia, proud service during WW1, and life as a peaceful and kind man. The detailed reconstruction of events can get a little tedious, but the book nicely recreates transatlantic voyages (with live cattle imported from the US), the uproar at how cheap crime novels may have fostered the crime (which sounds exactly like today’s apocalyptic descriptions of the internet), and the primitive state of psychiatry, pre-drugs of any kind. It also show how important it is to be able to recreate oneself. In those days, moving to Australia seemed to do it. Today, not so easy…