Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mystery/Crime Reading Challenges Recap 2013

To continue my end-of-the-year reckoning of reading challenges, I will talk a little about the OTHER mystery challenge, the Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by A Bookish Girl. In addition to reading Vintage Mysteries (I'm linking to my own post rather than repeating those reviews here), I went back on my vow not to start any more series until I’d finished my other ones. 

I began this trespass with Charles Finch’s A Beautiful Blue Death. It was good enough for me to want to read the other Charles Lenox sequels, but honestly aside from introducing the characters (who promise to develop nicely over the next few books) I didn’t think it all that memorable.

Next I found Death on the Aegean Queen by Maria Hudgins on my e-reader. Part of a series called the “Travel Mysteries,” it follows Dotsy Lamb as she investigates murder, uncovers an antiquities smuggler ring, and reveals false identities. I would read a bunch more of these mysteries, partly because they remind me of modern-day Agatha Christies due to the exotic locales, the colorful characters, the “fun” element to the sleuthing.

So far, so good, so I tried The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd. I’d seen this lauded on Goodreads, Amazon, and my Google+ reading groups. I’d seen its sequel, A Fatal Likeness, on my public library’s shelves, and almost started reading that before I realized it was a sequel. 

The final recommendation of this novel was the fact that it was based on Bleak House, one of my favorite Dickens novels (and a proto-detective novel in its own right). I found Lynn Shepherd’s prose interesting in that it’s not often you find a novel written in present tense.

I did NOT find interesting how the novel mutilates the Bleak House plot into what has become the run-of-the-mill postmodern interpretation of Victorian times as “Weren’t those Victorians all perverted hypocrites.” This interpretation (which I consider a gross generalization and a  lazy cop-out on the part of historical fiction writers) is so prevalent in today’s fiction that I usually pass by such fare by simply scanning the back cover or inside blurb for the words “brothel” or “prostitute” or “den,” but I admit that Solitary House fooled me until the last quarter of the book.  I was also disappointed that some of my favorite Bleak House characters (Guppy, George, a few others) were ignored and Inspector Bucket (possibly not intentionally cool, but I always thought so) was not as awesome as he should’ve been.

Lastly I began listening to audio books of Elizabeth Peters’ “Amelia Peabody Mysteries.” I’d read the first, Crocodile on the Sandbank, when I was about sixteen and at the height of my Egyptology craze. After discovering that Barbara Rosenblat had done the narration for the audio books, I couldn’t resist any longer. Rosenblat is by far my favorite audio book reader, and I first listened to her read the “Mrs. Pollifax” espionage dramedy/mysteries. Having finished Mrs. Pollifax off, I was thrilled to start Amelia Peabody. This year I read the first five novels in the nineteen-book series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, The Curse of the Pharoah, The Mummy Case, Lion in the Valley and The Deeds of the Disturber. I like to read series like this one right after another since the sequels often reference important events and characters from the previous books, and the character development is more evident than it would be if I took a break between readings. Therefore rather than reviewing each mystery individually, I’ll do an overview of the series so far:

Elizabeth Peters was the nom de plume of real-life Egyptologist Barbara Mertz.  Even in this fictional Victorian world Mertz uses all her knowledge of Ancient Egypt, archaeology, and the history of archaeology to her advantage. Read these novels and you will add to your knowledge of real historical facts whether you want to or not! These novels also bring to mind the “penny dreadful” or otherwise sensational adventure books written in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s and mostly aimed at teenage boys. The African adventure stories of Alan Quatermain are heavily referenced, as well as Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the Arabian Nights, even Jane Eyre and other Gothic novels. Peters for the most part avoids the modern interpretation of Victorians, making her characters both apart from their times (Amelia often wears trousers and is highly feminist) and a part of their times (Amelia also has shown the aloofness of a Victorian parent, often pawning her son Ramses off on nurses; she also is very feudal in her treatment of the household staff). While I would say these books are mostly positive in their qualities, I must admit that the sensuality of the (married) main characters keeps me from recommending it to a teen audience, and that I am a bit disappointed in some of the portrayals of Christianity in the novels (though Amelia herself often claims “Christian duties” as the motivator behind her actions, so that’s something). 

So, having read eight books especially for this challenge, and adding to it the eleven Vintage Mysteries I read for another challenge, comes to nineteen.  Just one short of being a Captain, but I’m content (for this year) to be stuck at Leftenant Laura (yes, I’m misspelling that: 1) Because I can’t spell it correctly, 2) Because that’s the way I pronounce it, and 3) Because I’m left-handed, which isn’t really related but I thought I’d throw that out there so I’d have three reasons).

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