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Archive for April, 2022

Mystery Monday Review – Deadly Duo

Monday, April 25th, 2022

Deadly Duo by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Deadly Duo a.k.a Take Two at Bedtime was first released in 1950, this book collected two awkwardly sized stories. The first Wanted, Someone Innocent (1945) is a long short story about 80 pages and the second Last Act (1946) is a novella of about 115 pages so they were too short for a stand-alone book. The Bantam paperback I read says on the cover “An Albert Campion Mystery” but this is misleading because the series hero does not put in his gangling appearance in either story.

The first story has some familiar gothic elements: an unworldly pretty girl in distress, an atmosphere of suspense, and cold and unhelpful servants. Granted, it is not set in a castle, but the London house is still unsettling and the weather is grey and rainy.

Our heroine is 20-year-old Gillian Brayton, who was raised by her uncle after she was orphaned at a young age. She was gently brought up and attended a tony girls school but times have been bad for her since her uncle died after burning through his money. At a reunion of alumnae where she’s supposed to tout her employer’s hats, one of the mean girls Rita Fayre offers her a job so attractive that a penniless girl with nobody in the world couldn’t dream of refusing. Though the duties of the job are unclear, she figures the annual salary of 300 pounds (about 17K in bucks) is better than working in a hat shop. Gillian is introduced to Rita’s husband who is convalescing from a war wound. As we’d expect in a gothic tale, romance blossoms. There’s a killing, though, and innocent as a puppy Gillian becomes the prime suspect. This is an interesting story, with good pace, witty writing but not arch or glib.

The second story, on the other hand, has some elements of the romance novel. The setting is an English country house, with a backdrop of entertainment and glamour. A beautiful clever actress gives her perspective on the story. The victim is a strong-willed older female, a veteran of the French stage and screen. Our actress feels giddily in love with one of the victim’s grandsons, a medical student. Our unlucky pair soon become not husband and wife but the prime suspects in a murder. Allingham builds suspense, persuading us inexperienced readers that being falsely accused because of circumstantial evidence would be an unfortunate situation.

Fans of the cozy whodunit who don’t mind Allingham’s mashing of genres will probably like this. Other readers, sensitive to misogyny and gender stereotyping, may find these stories problematic.




Fantasy Friday – The Last Graduate

Friday, April 22nd, 2022

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


THE LAST GRADUATE is the second in Novik’s YA Scholomance series, an excellent entry in what I’m now calling the “wizard school fantasy genre” . You should have read the first book (A DEADLY EDUCATION) in order to make sense of it. And really, If you like semi-gritty fantasy, you should read it – forget Harry Potter, he had it way too easy.

In the first book, we were introduced to Galadriel (she hates that name, call her El). El is an angry loner teen with a ton of dark power who is absolutely, completely, no matter what,  determined that she will never use. She will never become a maleficer (dark wizard) and never, ever, live down to the prophecy her paternal grandmother has pronounced upon her.

But here she is in the Scholomance, a school for wizard teens, where there are no adults, no teachers, and the lessons are almost as dangerous as the monsters roaming the school.  Politics and backstabbing abound, alliances shift rapidly, as the kids all maneuver for a place in the safety of the Enclaves after graduation. But less than half of the seniors actually make it out –  monsters fill the graduation hall waiting for them to enter. Most of the senior year is spent practicing their fighting skills.  And this is supposed to be safer for wizard kids than the outside world!  Using dark magic would be so easy. She could guarantee her survival – but she’s not going to use that talent.

In THE LAST GRADUATE, El has made it to her senior year. She has an alliance who she can actually call friends, and one of them has given her a familiar (may I just say that I love little Precious?) She has a boyfriend, even if she’s not calling it that. She has almost gotten what she wanted, which was a spot in one of the Enclaves. If she can survive this year, she’s done it. But El’s class schedule is impossible, and there’s no way to change it. She can’t possibly complete the assignments she’s given, and if she can’t, she’ll probably die.  She’s received a short cryptic note from her mother, a warning against her boyfriend. Thanks to last year’s events, there are fewer monsters in the school, but all of them are after her and if she can’t defend herself, she’ll die.  She’s stuck in a study class with a bunch of freshmen who are now put at additional risk because of her. They might die. El is coming to a realization that the Scholomance has heretofore unexpected sentience, and it’s now focused on her.
Novik has done a great job of showing El’s growth. She’s found people to care about, people who like her for who she is and not just her abilities. She’s willing now to ask for help, and she can accept that other people might do a better job than she does. She can forgive. Throughout the whole book drums the idea of injustice and privilege. Those with privilege will probably live. They have used and abused others all their lives without thinking about it. El accepted it, she thought she would work within it, but things change. Now El is forcing the privileged to think about what they’ve taken and what they might owe.  El is going to make a decision that will change everything, and she needs all of them to sign on. There is a lovely little twist right about then too, just to force El into extra persuasion.

My main gripe about the book is how long-winded El is. Oh so much inner dialogue!  Pages and pages of exposition on various types of monsters, thousands of them, and history, how the spells work, what she thinks about Orion, how she’s going to manage.. Lots of action in this book interspersed with long sections about things breeding in the showerheads or how to protect yourself in the cafeteria. Too much telling without showing. But when you get to the action you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

Just so you’re prepared, THE LAST GRADUATE ends on a major cliffhanger. I figured it would, just based on how the last book ended, and it’s pretty shocking. But don’t let that put you off, it’s still a great read.




Mystery Monday Review – Double, Double, Oil and Trouble

Monday, April 18th, 2022

Double, Double, Oil and Trouble by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This is Book 17 of the long-running mystery series starring investment banker John Putnam Thatcher. It is set in 1978. He taken far from his Manhattan haunts to Istanbul, Zurich, and London in adventures that involve kidnapping and murder.

In the first half of the book, the familiar series characters are pushed into the background in order to visit the different locations and place the various characters in their various organizations. The action unfolds in a semi-complicated fashion and we are thankful Putnam gives a lengthy reveal. The wheeling and dealing of large oil companies to land drilling contracts is only mildly interesting.

In the end, while this is worth reading for true fans, I don’t think it is the best introduction to the Lathen mysteries. Emma Lathen was the pen-name for two Boston business executives, Mary J. Latsis and Martha Hennissart. Their entertaining series blended series characters from Wall Street and characters in a specific industry. Their novels were solid sellers from 1961 to 1997 when Ms. Latsis passed away.




Fantasy Friday Review – Terciel & Elinor

Friday, April 15th, 2022

Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix
Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix is the sixth book in the Old Kingdom series, although it’s the second in the timeline. Back in 1995, Nix wrote YA fantasy SABRIEL, the story of a girl who must take up the necromantic duties of her vanished father, and fight evil in Death. It’s a great book, lovely world-building and solid characters, and it stands alone quite well. You really ought to read it before this prequel as it lays the foundation to understand this world. Plus you’ll recognize all sorts of characters.  TERCIEL & ELINOR takes place perhaps 30 years before SABRIEL.   But here’s the thing – if you read SABRIEL, you already know a little about Terciel and Elinor, and it isn’t a they-lived-happily-ever-after ending. Going into this story means you start out already a little sad.  Not to mention you know what’s going to happen to the nasty monster.

But this isn’t the story of the ending, it’s the beginning, and Nix once again immerses us into the magic of the Old Kingdom.

As a young orphan, Terciel is suddenly thrust into the role of Abhorsen-in-Waiting.  His great-aunt is the Abhorsen, the necromancer whose duties are to keep the Dead from coming back into Life, and Terciel is now the nearest with the required bloodlines.  Great-aunt Tizanael isn’t the most sympathetic person, being solely focused on her duties and with only the bare minimum of nurturing skills.  Terciel takes up his duties, but not without misgivings for what his life may be.

Over the Wall, in Ancelstierre, Elinor thinks she’s just a girl with an eccentric mother. She’s not allowed to go to school, so she’s taught at home by her nanny. In her free time, she’s happy to learn skills and tricks from a retired performer who’s now their gardener. But when her mother falls into a seeming coma, really strange things begin to happen. Saved by the Abhorsen but a homeless orphan, Elinor learns she is a descendant of the Clayr, and decides her future lies across the Wall. It’s not going to be easy.

Even if you haven’t read SABRIEL, Nix makes falling into this world almost effortless.  Great imagery of the terrain, how the Charter Marks look and feel, and the iciness of Death. There are lots of great action sequences and Nix laid out the groundwork so we can believe in Elinor’s talents.  Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, maybe. i really enjoyed the glimpses of Mogget aka Moregrim.
I have to say that while you might think this is a love story, it really isn’t. Although we know the two get together, that side of it is almost non-existent (until, I imagine, Nix remembered there’s a baby in their future and he has to get there somehow). I’m not sure if Nix just isn’t good at writing romance or if he felt the book didn’t need all that mushy stuff. But it is two young people learning their capabilities and finding courage, deciding how they want to live despite knowing there will be danger.

On the whole, this is a very welcome addition to The Old Kingdom. SABRIEL is one of my favorite “comfort reads”, and it’s lovely to see all the foreshadowing of that story.




Mystery Monday Review – East is East

Monday, April 11th, 2022

East is East by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This mystery is set in the Japan of the early 1990s. It was a country beset by a big insider trading scandal called Recruit that shook up big business and bumpkin politicians that thought they were big shots.

Carl Kruger is trying to turn around Lackawanna, a huge company that sounds suspiciously like lead-footed, heavy-handed GE. Our series hero, banker John Putnam Thatcher, heads the credit committee that is supervising Lackawanna’s move into robotics. The murder of a functionary of the Ministry of International Trade and Investment (MITI) occurs in Tokyo at a meeting among MITI, Lackawanna, an English robotics subsidiary of Lackawanna, and two Japanese trading companies. Documents indicate that bribery was playing an ugly part in keeping foreign companies out of the Japanese market.

Thatcher of course becomes involved in tracking down the culprit. One would expect to miss the other series regulars like Charlie Trinkam, Ev Gabler and the formidable Miss Corsa. But in fact the plot and incident are satisfying. The asides about changing business mores and ‘three men in a room’ inner circles give the reader a sense of being privy to the inside skinny but at the same time the author resists the temptation to explain Japanese business culture. The 21st book in the series was the first after a three-year break, taken after 1988’s Something in the Air.





Mystery Monday Review – The Potter’s Field

Monday, April 4th, 2022

The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 2008 mystery is 13th of the series that stars Inspector Montalbano, of the Vigata (Sicily) Police. It’s a satisfying mix of familiar elements, starting with the setting. Author Camilleri has said that the town of Vigata is based is his home town of Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento. After reading the alluring descriptions of Sicilian cuisine and landscapes, the reader wants to book tours to Modica and Ragusa.

Another familiar element is the unfolding of different plots. The cops and the readers assume various elements are not related. But gradually we realize that Sicily, an island with only 5 million people, is bound to have lots of intersections of people and the dodgy things they get up to.

A third stand-by is Montalbano’s subordinates. Fazio drives Salvo crazy by either collecting too much information or not passing on the information he’s collected. Lady’s man Mimi seems to be off the rails with a Spanish beauty in spite of the fact that his wife Beba just had a baby. And holy fool Catarella provides hilarious malaprops. There’s a slapstick scene with Cat near the beginning that will make readers laugh who think they despise slapstick.

Salvo Montalbano himself has much appeal. Getting older, he realizes that his bad temper and popping off at people are no longer leading him astray so much as a failing memory and erratic concentration. In this novel, he has to re-define himself as a boss and friend to his subordinates and come to terms with his own conscience. Besides the challenges of getting older, Salvo realizes that the world is changing and the values he cherishes are no longer considered essential by the dominant culture.

The novel impressed me a bit more than the other Camilleri stories. The dream that Montalbano has in the first pages and the deluge that accompanies him to the discovery of the body are examples of wonderful narration and plot development. Salvo is a true reader when he closely reads the Gospel of Matthew and gets a clue out of the place where Judas committed suicide. The theme of betrayal focuses on the various forms of unfaithfulness. In addition there is a game of fun house mirrors between Montalbano and Camilleri, subtle and ironic … who is observing whom?

Highly recommended.