Saturday, September 25, 2010

Three from the library, and some catching up

September has been a bit weird for me, and I haven't been able to focus on my recreational reading as much. Work is part of it, and also some other hassles in life (my car needs work, my doctor is retiring and I need to find a new one, and whoever heard of $75 being charged for a copy of your medical records?), but largely I've just been in a mood. We've bounced between cool autumn weather and relentless heat (it's 90 out right now) and it's been horrendously dry, so much so that instead of vibrant autumn colors we'll probably just have brown everywhere.

I did get some stuff read, so here's three quick reviews...

This won an Edgar in 2007 for best novel, and I want to know why. Not that it's bad, it's got good settings and interesting characters, but the story is so plodding and muddled that I found it difficult going.

What it has going for it is a meticulously researched setting: Istanbul in 1836. Yashim, a eunuch, is summoned to investigate a murder in the seraglio of the Topkapi Palace. There's also a question of threatening poems being nailed to a tree outside the palace, with veiled threats of a resurgence of the dreaded Janissaries, which had been forcibly disbanded (and mostly executed) a decade before.

Lots of potential there, but it rambles far too much, meandering here and there, spending too much time on what Yashim is cooking for dinner or the background of his transvestite dancer friend, and doesn't focus enough on plot. For those wanting information about Istanbul, it's probably good, but the didactic tone can take away from the energy of the story.

This was more like it. The fifth in Harper's series about Elizabeth I, and this time she's more comfortable with the characters and feels free to develop the plot. It kicks off with an attack on Elizabeth near a maze in her own palace, becomes complicated when a lawyer is murdered in the center of that maze, and gets dire as Bess and her court try to flee the plague striking London and figure out the identity and motive of the killer in their midst. There's some good stuff here about old English manor houses and garden mazes, and the climax is set in an unusual water maze, negotiated by boat. Good fun.

This was a pleasant surprise, a mystery set in the Regency that isn't suffocatingly twee and tries too hard to be humorous. Sebastian St. Cyr, a young nobleman with acute senses (given a good explanation) and a troubled family, is accused of the rape and murder of an actress, and must go on the lam to find out the real murderer. He gets together a good team, including a loyal street urchin, a disreputable doctor, and another actress (who happens to be an old flame). It's well-paced, nasty when it needs to be, full of good detail and twisted villainy. There's espionage, threats to the throne, and all sorts of fun. I can't wait to read the next book, I enjoyed it that much.

So there's three quick ones. I'm climbing out of whatever mood I was in, and hope to get back into regular posting soon.


Sasha said...

I just made a note for myself to read "What Angels Fear." I'm a big fan of the Regency era, but I'm with you about the twee treatment it so often gets.

Have you read "Gallows Thief" by Cornwell?

Vagrarian said...

No, I haven't...but I'll put it on the list...