I picked Agatha Christie's Nemesis nearly at random of my "audiobooks" playlist; I'd recorded it a while ago and didn't remember a thing about the premise. So it was a nice surprise to find a strong opening hook: Jason Rafiel, who Miss Marple met on a prior case, has died, leaving her a large sum of money—if she'll solve a mystery for him. He's not going to tell her about the mystery, but information will come her way, and their code word will be "Nemesis," which is a reference to the prior case. (Of course, in the radio play at least, no-one ever uses a code word, so it feels rather contrived.)
At this point, I was quite interested, but as the adaptation continued, I began to have some misgivings about this premise. Mr. Rafiel posthumously maneuvers Miss Marple into places where she can learn about the mystery, forcing her to find out everything herself, and I found myself tempted to conflate him with the author—and then I got annoyed with him and Christie for withholding information and making us jump through hoops. It's hard to tell from the adaptation how much Mr. Rafiel knew or suspected about the mystery; maybe he guessed a lot and was directing Miss Marple accordingly, or maybe he was just spectacularly lucky.
This is probably one that's better read, though for subtler reasons than the my previous quibbles with the adaptations for radio.
Since we first met Mr. Rafiel of Nemesis in A Carribean Mystery, I listed to that next. This is the one where an old bore asks Miss Marple if she wants to see a photograph of a murderer, stops before showing it her with a startled look on his face, and then ends dead. I don't recommend experiencing these out of order; Miss Marple doesn't ally with Mr. Rafiel until late in the book, and Nemesis has oblique but real spoilers for this story.
On its own, though, I'd be a bit dubious about this, as the big revelation that makes the mystery come together doesn't seem physically plausible to me. Other than Mr. Rafiel, there isn't too much memorable about this. (I do note that a sort of rough justice occurs with regard to one of the red herrings, which goes unremarked upon by the characters in the adaptation.)
The Mauritius Command is the fourth of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, and somewhat reminscient of the first, in that it's as much concerned with a third party (there, James Dillion; here, Lord Clonfert) as with either of Jack or Stephen. It is less episodic than the first, being the tale of the British campaign to take the two small islands of Mauritius and La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar, from which the French have been playing havoc on British trade. Jack is given command of the squadron (thanks to Stephen, not that Stephen wanted that known), and for the first time must command other captains against difficult odds.
I found this satisfying on the whole, though I found myself getting mildly confused about locations, and would have done myself a favor if I'd remembered that the book had a map. There are exciting bits, devastating bits, a nuanced and compelling psychological portrait of Lord Clonfert, and a small amount of continuing emotional development of Jack and Stephen after book three's romantic happenings. Not as many high points as H.M.S. Surprise, but a worthy listen.
As usual, a spoiler post follows.
SPOILERS for The Mauritius Command; here's the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.
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The second of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books is The Viscount Who Loved Me. It's a little too similar to the first, The Duke and I, in that the conflict is principally from the irrational fear of the male protagonist. Also, it has a cringe-inducing forced marriage, even more so than the first one. Standing alone, though, it's not too bad (though probably ahistorical like anything, which I appear not to have said about the first one).
Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is famous as a mystery in which the detective does all his detecting while flat on his back in a hospital bed. Alan Grant is an Inspector at Scotland Yard who is bored out of his mind while recuperating. Knowing of his interest in faces, a friend brings him prints of historical figures with mysteries attached. Grant is perturbed to have placed Richard III on the bench rather than in the dock; he starts by refreshing his memory about Richard's crime, the murder of the Princes in the Tower, and is slowly drawn into investigating the matter with the help of a fresh-faced young American.
I have heard people critique the solution that Grant comes to, but honestly I don't care. The fun of this book for me is always in watching the process, slowly accumulating information and fitting all the pieces together. It's really not like anything else that I'm aware of, and probably couldn't be done again.
This time around I listened to it as an audiobook, recorded off BBC 7. I don't know who the reader was, since the portions I recorded didn't have that information, but whoever he is, he's not any better at doing an American accent that the vast majority of British actors. I do have to say that out loud, I found the conclusions a little strongly stated; practicing law has given me a deep suspicion of statements that something is clear, simple, obvious, or (a favorite of Grant's) inevitable. Also, Grant's certainty that he can tell character through faces [*] grates a little more out loud, even accepting it as the quirk necessary to get the plot going. I think it's probably a book best read rather than listened to, but it's definitely worth reading.
[*] As I recall, Miss Pym Disposes, an earlier Tey novel, is an interesting contrast as it also has a protagonist convinced that the face is an infalliable guide to character. However, I found it a thoroughly unpleasant book and have no desire to re-read it to confirm my recollection.
J.D. Robb's Memory in Death is a welcome return to the personally-based mystery after the appalling conspiracy mode of Origin. Eve Dallas' former foster mother shows up, shakes Eve badly by causing Eve to remember her time in foster care, tries to blackmail Roarke, and ends up dead. Eve, of course, discovers the body and investigates the case.
My only complaint about this installment in the series is that it undercuts its own suspense, quite bafflingly. Early on, there's a snippet of the foster-mother's point of view, which makes clear something that Eve spends the next fifty pages (or so; the book's gone back to the library) trying to figure out—which she does, indisputably. As far as I can tell, the only effect of this dip into the foster-mother's point of view is to remove a bit of the mystery, which seems suboptimal for a book shelved in the mystery section of the bookstore. I also think it contributed to my guessing whodunnit quite early, though I probably would have regardless.
The fun character work makes up for this, to me, but it does strike me as a bit sloppy. Then again, this is a guilty-pleasure series for me.
4.50 From Paddington is the Agatha Christie novel in which a friend of Miss Marple's sees a murder on a passing train, and Miss Marple gets her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow to go undercover at a local country house to look for the body. I listened to this as a 90-minute BBC radio adaptation.
Judging from the adaptation, at least, this is a mystery which can't be actually solved ahead of time: one can determine who has opportunity, but not whodunnit. Miss Eyelesbarrow is a nice change of pace and her investigative efficiency is admirable, but the adaptation gives her romantic subplot such very short shrift that it would have been better left out. This is also probably a better book than radio play.
The adaptation did give me the opportunity for some legal geekery that is very spoilery, so I shall ROT13 it: V jnf nzhfrq gb jbex bhg gung, svefg, gur jvyy va dhrfgvba zhfg unir qvfgevohgrq gur rfgngr cre fgvecrf, fvapr gur qnhtugre'f puvyq jvyy funer naq fvapr erzbivat gur bgure fvoyvatf vapernfrf gur funerf gb bguref; naq frpbaq, gung gur bayl zneevrq fba zhfg abg unir nal puvyqera (vg'f abg fcrpvsvrq va gur nqncngvba gung V urneq), bgurejvfr xvyyvat uvz jbhyqa'g uryc (hayrff gur zheqrere jnf jvyyvat gb trg evq bs xvqf nf jryy).
I tried listening to Terry Pratchett's Pyramids as an audiobook, but Nigel Planer's narration just wasn't working for me (all the characters sounded stupid). But since I'd started it, I picked it up in print just to remind myself how it ended.
This is a book with a bit of an identity crisis, or maybe a very extended prologue. It opens with Teppic taking his Assassins' Guild examination and recalling his school days (very British), and then moves, somewhat abruptly, to Djelibeybi, a very old Egypt-like country with far, far too many pyramids. These aren't very well integrated; more, the second part is the core of the plot, and it feels a bit slight to carry the entire book. However, the novel has its memorable moments, making it a minor but readable Discworld novel.
A few weeks ago, I was coming down with a cold and wanted something really undemanding to read. I'd vaguely heard that Mercedes Lackey's dragon books (Joust, Alta, and Sanctuary) didn't suck, so grabbed them from the library. I've decided that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Lackey's books is that they completely, absolutely lack all subtlety: everything a character feels, learns, or thinks is spelled out in explicit detail. This is not generally a characteristic that I like, but it definitely fits the "undemanding" bill.
These also have good training neep, which means that I respect them slightly more. Lackey's dragons don't teleport or have language, but are instead intelligent animals that can be trained in the way horses, hawks, and so forth can be. Joust tells the story of Vetch, a serf boy, who comes to live at the Jousters' compound in the country of Tia. There, he helps care for the one tame dragon in the compound (the others are trapped after birth and drugged into submission), and secretly raises his own tame dragon from the egg. At the end, he escapes back to his home country of Alta with his dragon. Alta and Sanctuary tell what Vetch (now known as Kiron) found in Alta, how he put together a wing of riders with tame dragons, and what part they play in the war between Tia and Alta.
There were too many characters in Kiron's wing for me to keep track of, and like I said, these are not in the least subtle, but in my getting-sick state I thought they didn't suck, enough to buy the first two in paperback. There is to be a fourth volume, which I will get out of the library when it's released.
After reading Mercedes Lackey's dragon books, I also grabbed The Wizard of London from the library, because it incorporated some short stories involving two Victorian girls with psychic abilities, which I'd rather liked for being refreshingly different for Lackey (though occasionally verging on twee). When I read this novel, I was not just coming down with a cold but smack in the middle of one, heavy drugs and all, so my opinion is not exactly objective. Even if I'd been healthy, though, I don't think it would have been as good as the dragon books. I wonder if maybe it's not trying to juggle too much, what with the girls, their teacher, the title character, and the Bad Guy. Whatever the reason, it's kind of flat: the ending is thematic but unexciting, and the presence of Puck—did I mention that Puck is a character?—felt arbitrary, and not in a fey sense.
I took a couple others that appeared to be related out of the library at the same time, but I seemed to have reached my maximum Lackey exposure after Wizard: I could barely open one before putting it back down. They went back to the library unread. I don't imagine I'll give them another try.
When I picked up the third of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books, An Offer From a Gentleman, I said, "oh yes, this is the one where he is really annoying about wanting her to be his mistress," and so put it right back down. This allowed me to skip to the fourth and my favorite, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which is just a nice story about friendship, people growing into themselves, and being a writer.
Colin Bridgerton is the third son of the Bridgerton clan. Anthony has the title and the responsibility; Benedict is an artist; but Colin doesn't seem to have anything to do with his life (yes, they're named in alphabetical order). Penelope Featherington is a spinster with a long-standing hopeless crush on Colin; they've been casual friends for years, but that's all. Now Colin's back in England after an extended trip abroad (and some travel journals), and both are finding that perhaps they're more than they thought they were.
Penelope gets some unexpected help in this regard from Lady Danbury, an old dragon who sets the ton on its ear by offering a thousand pounds for the unmaking of Lady Whistledown, a pseudonymous columnist whose gossip sheet has provided quotes to open the chapters of all the books. Their relationship, and Colin and Penelope's relationships with their families, gives the story a texture that I appreciate.
This by far the best of the Bridgerton books, and probably the only one I would actively recommend to romance readers.