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Tag: mysteries

The Honorable Schoolboy by John le Carré

My reread through the Smiley novels continues, and this was a big one. I’ve never revisited The Honourable Schoolboy after the initial read, and I’m pretty sure I powered through it way too quickly on my way to Smiley’s People, because I remembered very little of the story. This installment is highly rated by most reviewers, although Clive James panned it in the NYRB when it first came out. And he’s not wrong about the “elephantiasis, of ambition as well as reputation” that seems to undergird the novel. But I agree with the majority who praised it. Yes, it’s baggy and long and there are a multitude of storylines. But it’s not that way only (or even primarily) in order to produce a novel that is more than “merely entertaining” any more than The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is merely entertaining.

The novel takes a while to get going. We are first introduced to a group of foreign journalists in Hong Kong, who are hanging out and speculating about the sudden rolling up of the British government office there. We then move to Tuscany, where the Honourable Jerry Westerby has rented a small house, taken up with a young woman he refers to as “the orphan,” and is desultorily writing a book. There’s a surfeit of local color and stereotypically colorful characters in both settings, and I had to force myself to keep going. But then Westerby receives a telegram that send him back to London, the Circus, and George Smiley. The Circus is in dire straits after the discovery of Karla’s mole in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the atmosphere is funereal. But Smiley and his much shrunken band of investigators discover, during their wrapping-up operations, that there may be an important Moscow agent operating in East Asia. Jerry Westerby assumes the guise of a journalist and heads off to Hong Kong, while in London Smiley puts together a team of Soviet and China hands (the former led by Connie Sachs) to pore through the records and connect whatever dots they can find.

In addition to the main two storylines, there are a number of subsidiary ones involving the raft of characters le Carré introduces. He builds a thick context with backstories not only for them, but for even minor figures who appear once or twice. Westerby’s mission is to trace the movements and relationships around Drake Ko, a prominent and powerful Chinese businessman in Hong Kong whose interests extend into China. This leads him to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and other sites of the Vietnam War. Ko’s mistress, Lizzie Worthington, provides an avenue to other associates, and since she is beautiful, mysterious, and in jeopardy, Jerry naturally falls in love with her.

Meanwhile, back at Cambridge Circus, Smiley and his group are doing battle not only with the British foreign policy establishment (readers will note the reappearance of several characters from TTSS), but also with the Americans, known to the British as the Cousins. The Cousins were in the background before but now they are front and center, and le Carré brutally depicts the way the balance of power has shifted between the two nations and their intelligence operations. Britain is barely hanging on in Hong Kong while the US owns the Southeast Asian theater, for good or ill. Smiley is constantly battling unholy alliances between ambitious and amoral members of each side, who use the opportunity to advance personal rather than collective goals.

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The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

In a comment to one of the posts on our Fen Rivers Way walk, Ros pointed out that The Nine Tailors was set in the Fens and described it as one of the best descriptions of the area she knew. I had completely forgotten that not only did Sayers set novels in the area, Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother is the Duke of Denver. As in Denver the town and Denver the sluice. Good grief, how did I not remember this? TheHusband did, but we didn’t talk about it on the path.

Nine Tailors cover

I pulled out my copy of The Nine Tailors a couple of weekends ago and started reading. It has been described as one of Sayers’ best novels, even the best by some. All I remembered about it was that there was a lot of information about bell ringing and bells played a major role in the story. But as soon as I started reading I realized how much more than that it was. Sayers spent part of her life in the Fens and was very familiar with the villages and the agricultural life of the area, and it shows.

Lord Peter and and his man Bunter have an automobile accident on the way to a house party during the holidays and wind up in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are put up by the vicar and his wife and Lord Peter becomes drawn into the vicar’s (and the village’s) central passion, which is bell-ringing. The church is famous for its bells, and on New Year’s Eve Lord Peter helps out the village’s group of bellringers in their effort to set a new record.

On their way out of town after the car is repaired the two encounter a man who is looking for work, speak with him briefly, and go on their way. Lord Peter notes his condition and the discrepancies between who the man says he is and what his appearance suggests, but thinks little more about it until he is contacted by a young member of the village for help in identifying a body that was buried where it shouldn’t have been.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for October: Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

I know, I know, it’s November so I’m really late, but I did read it (late in October but still October!). So here you go.

Kearsley is one of my favorite authors, but shockingly, I haven’t read all of her available books yet. This one has been in my print and ebook TBR piles for years. TheHusband read it quite a while ago and liked it a lot, but I kept saving it for later. The theme of this month’s challenge is Paranormal/Romantic Suspense, and this novel is at the edge of RS, but Wendy is always saying readers don’t have to follow the categories. Anyway, it’s mysterious and somewhat suspenseful and while it deals with the past, it’s not a timeslip or two-era storyline.

Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist living in London. She is just finishing up covering a trial when an old man approaches her and says he has an important story. She brushes him off, politely but still a brushoff, and as he’s walking away he is hit by a car and dies. Her remorse leads her to try and find out more about the man, Arthur Deacon, and the story he wanted to tell her, which was about a long-ago murder. She has a couple of strange encounters in England which put her on her guard, but it’s when she goes back to Canada that the story really heats up. Her beloved grandmother turns out to have some tantalizing bits of information that fit into Kate’s puzzle, but there are any number of people who don’t want that information to come out.

Kate becomes determined to search for the truth of what Deacon was telling her, a search which takes her back to Europe and to sites of events during World War II. She learns much more about her grandmother’s wartime life as a young single woman, which includes a stint in New York City working for the Canadian version of MI-6, and she finds that she is connected to Arthur Deacon in ways she could never have anticipated. Along the way she meets a mysterious man who is also seeking information on Deacon and the events he described, and they keep running into each other while they are conducting their respective interviews and searches for documentary evidence. Is the man a threat or on her side? It takes a while to find out and I wasn’t sure at all what was going to happen.

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Mini-reviews of recent reads

I’m still woefully behind on my 20 Books of Summer reading, but I managed another Harlequin TBR review which counted, as well as a mystery from the library which didn’t. They were a nice break from the Booker longlist, which while rewarding can get kind of grim.

A Regency Invitation to the House Party of the Season by Nicola Cornick, Joanna Mailand, and Elizabeth Rolls

I was in the mood for another Regency trad and I pulled this anthology out of the virtual stack. I have at least one Rolls full-length novel there as well, but while I’ve always meant to read her I haven’t done so yet. An anthology with one sure bet (Cornick) and two new authors seemed like a good strategy. Unlike the old holiday anthologies, these stories are all intertwined. The setting is, as the title tells you, a house party at an estate, and each story focuses on a different couple with all the other characters recurring across their individual storylines. Cornick’s opening story features a couple whose marriage is being arranged because the hero needs a fortune and the heroine has one. They don’t expect to like each other but of course they do. I preferred the hero to the heroine (she was a bit ditzy and overly naive at times), but Cornick does a very good job of setting the stage and introducing the cast.

The second story, by Maitland, features a young woman who has disguised herself as an abigail in order to look for her missing brother. She meets the hero, who is himself hiding out to avoid being arrested (for something he didn’t do, naturally). Their story deepens the larger story arc. They’re an enjoyable couple, although the maid-masquerade required massive suspensions of disbelief. We also get more of the great-aunt-Gorgon who was announced in the first story, and she’s the real star of this anthology. She plays a major role in the third installment, by Rolls, which uncovers the mystery of the host’s missing wife. She ran away as a newlywed, right before Waterloo, and society generally believes her husband had a hand in his disappearance. Needless to say, they’re wrong and he’s a more than upstanding hero. All three storylines are wrapped up neatly; I could see the wife coming in Maitland’s novella but that was OK, it was a mystery not a romance. I thoroughly enjoyed all three parts and look forward to the full-length Rolls I have (I don’t think I have any by Maitland in the TBR, but the library may be able to help me out). This counted as Harlequin TBR #466.


Malice by Keigo Higashino

And now for something completely different. I really liked the mystery by Higashino that I read a couple of months ago, so when Liz’s read of this popped up in my GR feed I borrowed it. It features the same detective, Kaga, as Newcomer, but it was written earlier. Luckily you don’t really have to read Kigashino’s series in order. This is more of a whydunit than a whodunit, although there were points at which I wasn’t sure if the murderer was really the murderer. An author is killed in his house and discovered by his wife and his good friend. Kaga quickly deduces who the killer is, but the motive is unclear, and the more Kaga investigates the reasons behind the murder the more confusing the case becomes. At various times it’s difficult to decide who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.

I enjoyed all the twists and turns, although Liz’s comment that she had trouble caring much for the characters is completely understandable to me. It’s not that they are just vehicles for ideas or plot twists, but everything seems to happen at a remove, probably because the story is told in flashback or dialogue, rather than the reader being able to watch the events unfold. It’s an interesting approach, and it creates the distance and suppressed emotional tone that I often find in Japanese novels (both genre and non-genre). The way the story and characters were finally wrapped up wasn’t what I was expecting, and I can see why Higashino is such a bestselling author in Japan. I definitely want to read more of his work.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson just released her fifth Jackson Brodie novel after a years-long hiatus in which she wrote acclaimed general/literary fiction novels. I started and put aside this one years ago, and then I intended to go back after watching and enjoying Jason Isaacs in the TV adaptation but it has languished on my TBR. Discussion of the latest Brodie piqued my interest again, though, so I picked it up and started over from the beginning. This time I was prepared for the discursive, meandering style and the lack of emphasis on the actual investigative procedure aspect, and I enjoyed it a lot. So much, in fact, that I went straight on to start the next installment, One Good Turn.

Jackson Brodie is a 45-year-old PI. He’s an ex-military policeman and an ex-detective, born in Yorkshire but who has lived in Cambridge for the last decade-plus. He is recently divorced and shares custody of his eight-year-old daughter. His ex-wife, who when married to him neither wore a wedding ring nor changed her name, is now living with a Cambridge lecturer and knits, gardens, and generally does the hausfrau things she scorned with Jackson. Jackson doesn’t drink too much, but he has recently gone back to smoking too much and spends a lot of time musing about his life in internal monologues.

The plot itself comprises three crime threads, all of which we see from the characters’ POVs. The first thread involves the disappearance 35 years ago of a young child, Olivia, who is beloved by her sisters and her mother (the father, a self-described brilliant mathematician academic, is barely involved with his family). Her now middle-aged sisters discover her favorite stuffed animal among her fathers’ things after his death, which leaves them stunned and looking for answers. The second thread is about the senseless, unsolved killing of an 18-year-old young woman named Laura ten years previously and her father’s inability to stop looking for the killer. The third thread concerns a young family in which the wife was convicted of her husband’s brutal murder and their baby daughter Tanya was given to her paternal grandparents, but who as a teenager has disappeared. There is also a fourth character, Binky Rain, a very old woman who has dozens of cats and who calls Jackson every time one of them goes missing.

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