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What I Read: February 2023

Last year February saw the release of Death on the Nile, a film adapted from one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels. It prompted me to dub February Murder Mystery Month, a tradition I continued this year.

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham
I started with a classic, a novel by a Golden Age detective fiction writer. It was my first time reading Allingham and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It had some of the most renowned trappings of a murder mystery novel: big mansion in the countryside, an ensemble cast, an eccentric sleuth, and of course the requisite murder and mystery. It was made all the more exciting by the characters being imprisoned in the grand mansion, confining the action to one rambling location – all the better to ramp up the tension. The ending felt a bit rushed, but the action and suspense in getting to that end were well worth it. Based on this first read, I’d rank Allingham up there with Christie and Ngaio Marsh.

A Magical Bakery Mystery #5: Magic and Macaroons by Bailey Cates
Clearly I’m loving this series, since I’m already five deep. This entry had the usual blend of magic, murder, and mystery, along with its regular dose of recipes and mouthwatering descriptions of food that included pork chops smothered in fried apples, and grilled cheese sandwiches with Tasso ham, sliced pears, and mango chutney on sourdough bread, along with an explanation for making the latter with wild yeast. The main character, Katie Lightfoot, even explains the difference between macarons and macaroons, so that you know her title is accurate. The magical element of this entry delves deeper into voodoo, forming part of the central mystery and expanding the character of Cookie. This is the last Magical Bakery Mystery I have, so I’ll need to start searching for the rest as I’d like to add these to the other hard copies I have, rather than getting them on Kindle.

Stephanie Plum #1: One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
This book was 1000% entertainment. I enjoyed it so much. It was the first book for the month that veered away from the traditional murder mysteries I read. It’s grittier but leavened with a liberal amount of humour. The main character is the down-and-out Stephanie Plum for whom the series is named. In her first outing, she takes on a job as a bounty hunter to make ends meet. Set in the ‘90s (and written then too), it takes place in New Jersey where the author is from, providing an authentic sense of atmosphere. Stephanie Plum is no-nonsense and tough-as-nails, but through the first-person narration we never fail to see how scared and out of her depth she is. While this is not your average sleuth – she’s certainly not as sweet or clean-cut as Miss Marple or Katie Lightfoot – and the murder and mystery are not what you might find in a Golden Age detective or cosy novel, I will absolutely, 1000% return to Ms Plum’s adventures.

The Oxford Tearoom Mystery #4: Till Death Do Us Tart by HY Hanna
You might think I really enjoy this series too since I’m four deep, but after this latest one, I’ve decided I’m over it. Like the first few books in this series, I listened to it on Audible and the narrator is really good but sometimes she just sounds too proper, and it gets on my nerves a bit – some of her pronunciation, in particular, has me gritting my teeth in irritation. The main character (Gemma) can also be a bit of a hypocrite and the characters in general too conservative. I also figured out the killer pretty early on and it was very annoying listening to Gemma miss obvious clues and not even consider the eventual killer a suspect. It’s like the writer was trying to force a twist, but achieving the opposite by so obviously leaving the person out.

Inspector Cockrill #4: Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand
This was the book I read for the Shedunnit book club. The theme was “impossible crime” of which I have read (and watched) better examples. I enjoyed it, but the investigation and eventual unveiling of the murder got a bit convoluted with way to much back-and-forthing, especially towards the end, and I was glad when it eventually ended. I would not pick up Brand again in a hurry.

Cormoran Strike #4: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
If I start a new series, it’s usually at the beginning, but I had watched the TV adaptation of the first novel, so I was familiar with the story and the characters. I’d also really enjoyed watching it, which is what prompted me to take this from my aunt’s box of “books to pass on”. This might not be fantasy (Galbraith is a pseudonym for JK Rowling) but, like her Potter novels, this is well-paced and the characters’ dynamics on point. It is, however, really long (771 pages). While it never drags, there are many scenes that easily could be cut (which is exactly what they do for the adaptation, which I also watched this month) The scenes of Robin (Strike’s partner at his private detective agency) and her husband Matthew fighting, in particular, happen too many times and become very tiresome. But, although again not a typical murder mystery, there’s still plenty of both to keep you entertained and it keeps you guessing right until the end.

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