Saturday, 3 May 2014

two mystery reviews

      April was one of my worst reading months in years.  I read all of two books, although a few others are on the go.  I had a really difficult time settling down to read.  So I challenged myself today and read a book this afternoon:   Death of a Perfect Wife, #4 in the Hamish McBeth mystery series by M.C. Beaton.                          

 I love M.C Beaton; her Hamish McBeth mysteries are perfect when I want something light and good and often funny. The Hamish McBeth mystery series are cozy village mysteries.   Hamish is the perfect Highlands policeman, tall, lanky, red-haired, able to look after himeself quite well, and pining away for the young lady of the mansion on the hill, the aristocrats of the area, Priscilla Haliburton-Smythes. Hamish is resourceful, courageous, clever, kind, thoughtful, and responsible.  He is an ideal village bobby, enjoying his life, a part of the village life, and yet able to interview suspects by being frank and open with them.  If he has to investigate a crime, he tells the person he has to question them to clear them.  No one resents him though they do have opinions, and it's hilarious to see the real thoughts, likes and dislikes of the villagers as they try to live together peaceably.
 In this ideal world of Loch Dubh, in the mountains of Highland Scotland, Hamish investigates a murder or two in each book of the series.  Sometimes smuggling or poaching are the major crimes, but there is always a body, almost always of an outsider or newcomer to the village.
 In Death of a Perfect Wife, Trixie and Paul Thomas move to Loch Dubh from London, buying a dilapidated house and turning it into a room and board hotel.   Not too long after arriving, Trixie has turned the town upside down with her magnetic personality, convincing many of the village women that the way to be happy is to have a clean house and protest things that want changing.  Secretly she is up to something not so nice.  Trixie's influence on the village is funny at first as she convinces the doctor's wife that the doctor needs a healthier diet and a cleaner house.  But as she begins to play husbands against wives, and Priscilla against Hamish, she is revealed to be quite nasty, and it is a shock but not a surprise when she is found dead one day.  Suspects are many, as are motive, and Hamish has to investigate many of his neighbors before the culprit is uncovered.

 There is nothing better to cozy up with on a rainy Saturday afternoon for a few hours, than a trip to northern Scotland and watching Hamish outwit his boor of a superior officer DCI Blair. DCI Blair  loathes Hamish, mostly because Hamish is always solving the crime.   Hamish lets Blair take the success is because Hamish doesn't want to leave his village.  He has everything he needs there, and he is contented with his small police office, tiny tenant farm at the back where he raises sheep and chickens and eggs, his dog Towser at his side, and the occasional crime to solve. 

At Christmas I read two of the books in the series, and decided to read these in order - there are 21 now in the series:

Hamish Macbeth
1. Death of a Gossip (1985)
2. Death of a Cad (1987)
3. Death of an Outsider (1988)
4. Death of a Perfect Wife (1989)
5. Death of a Hussy (1990)
6. Death of a Snob (1991)
7. Death of a Prankster (1992)
8. Death of a Glutton (1993)
     aka Death of a Greedy Woman
9. Death of a Travelling Man (1993)
10. Death of a Charming Man (1994)
11. Death of a Nag (1995)
12. Death of a Macho Man (1995)
13. Death of a Dentist (1997)
14. Death of a Scriptwriter (1998)
15. Death of an Addict (1999)
16. Death of a Dustman (2001)
17. Death of a Celebrity (2002)
18. Death of a Village (2003)
19. Death of a Poison Pen (2004)
20. Death of a Bore (2005)
21. Death of a Dreamer (2006)
22. Death of a Maid (2007)
23. Death of a Gentle Lady (2008)
24. Death of a Witch (2009)
25. Death of a Valentine (2009)
26. Death of a Chimney Sweep (2011)
     aka Death of a Sweep
27. Death of a Kingfisher (2012)
28. Death of Yesterday (2013)
29. Death of a Policeman (2014)
A Highland Christmas (1999)

I now have read the first four in the series, as well as A Highland Christmas, which was quite good and enjoyable to read over the holidays this past Christmas.  I will do a more thorough review of them in a post soon.  I have also read two others in the series over the past few years, while I decided if I wanted to read it sequentially.  I do!  There is a progression in this series, and references once in a while to past events, so reading them as they were written is a good idea, though not necessary. Depends on if you like dipping into a series or not.  I highly recommend these for anyone looking for a comforting, enjoyable mystery series to read. 

One of the 2 books I read in April was Bellfield Hall (re-named A Moment of Silence in the UK), by Anna Dean.  This is the first in the Deductions of Dido Kent mystery series.  I really enjoyed it.  I had picked it up last year, but hadn't read it, and then Cath at Read-Warbler read it and loved it.  So her post convinced me to give it a try.  

I think I had hesitated to read it because I was afraid that it would be too Jane Austen-like. By this I mean, the temptation to write a character like Jane Austen would, or like Jane herself could have been, is immense these days.  I don't like either.  To me, Jane Austen and her characters belong to her, the author, and while I know many people enjoy the spin-offs from her novels, I have great difficulty reading them. In any case, even though the main character in this series, Dido Kent, is a spinster, and rather Jane-like in her sharp acuity in noticing people and their expressions around her, the similarity to Jane ends there.  The books are set in 1805, right at the time of many of Jane's novels, Regency England.  The social mores, conventions, and conversations and society rules are the same as in Jane's novels, because it is the same time period. However, the characters are Anna Dean's own creations. I am so happy to report this!   Reading Bellfield Hall is like having a series set in the wonderful time of Jane Austen.  We get to see more of Regency England, the way that women can and can't move around by themselves to go anywhere, and how spinsters rely on the goodwill of family members to support them.  Dido is 35, so considered out of the dating game by then, an old maid.  She is summoned to Bellfield Hall, home of the Montagues, where her niece had just announced her engagement to a wealthy country man, Richard Montague, at an engagement party. Catherine is distraught because her fiancé has tried to end their engagement during the party.  Catherine refuses to believe that Richard is serious, and asks Dido to come and try to track down where her fiancé has disappeared to.  She wants an explanation, for she thinks the letter he left doesn't explain anything to her.   However, upon her arrival, a dead body is discovered on the property:  a young woman, murdered. Who is she?  Is there a link to Richard's sudden disappearance?

Dido comes because Catherine is her favourite niece, and because her brother Francis (Catherine's father) asks her to.  Or as she says to her sister Eliza, Catherine has told her father she wants Dido with her, and so what Catherine wants, her father gives her. Dependent on him as on all of her brothers for her income, Dido goes where she is summoned, and her time is considered theirs to use.  In this way, we see some of what befalls unmarried women in Regency England. 

The fact that she is a spinster, and not wealthy of her own accord, allows Dido to approach the servants and socialize at the dinner engagements equally.  I am not sure that Dido would have been able to move so freely in a country house without being noticed that she was talking to the servants, but both of Richard's parents are otherwise occupied, and of course pay her no mind as she is just the spinster aunt of their son's fiancée.  

Part of the novel is constructed in letters Dido writes to her sister Eliza, which is very much in keeping with the letters Jane Austen wrote to her sister Eliza.  I kept thinking of Jane and Cassandra corresponding like this, and having recently read some of Jane's letters to her family, My Dear Cassandra, I was able to see that the tone in the letters in this novel as well as the tone of the book itself is close to perfect. It is like stepping into Regency England, with the the lightness and delicacy of touch that Jane Austen had, without the novel being Jane Austen like.  Dido is a woman in her own right, and her investigation is well-done with plenty of clues, questioning, searching out the truth hidden in plain sight, and concern for the people in the house.  Who could be the killer?  Was it a family member, a potential member of Catherine's family, and so of Dido's? What happened to Richard?  Why did he leave the engagement party without a word being said?  

A few of the things that elevates this book is that while Dido investigates, she has to do so carefully, aware that a killer is in their midst, and that she is there as a guest.  There is no real investigation into the death because there are no policeman at that time, no village bobby to call.  The local coroner investigates a little, but only so much as to determine the woman was murdered, by persons unknown.  Dido investigates in order to clear her niece's fiancé; Lord Montague, Richard's father, doesn't want scandal to touch the family, and so no real inquest is held, it is thought that someone outside the family happened by and killed the unknown lady.  Many of Dido's clues come because she talks to the servants, who are the ones who know what happens in the house, although they have no one to tell, except amongst themselves.  

And Dido falls in love.  It is most unexpected, and fun to watch happen.  It is even better that is possibly returned.....except that there is of course, something in the way.  He is a man of values, to esteem, after all. And the mystery ends on the happy note of the mystery solved and romance in the air, in the genteel sweet air of Austen's novels.  Lovely.

It is an enjoyable mystery, with interesting characters, and Dido shows herself to be skilled at reading people and understanding motives.  She is clever, and I liked her.  So thank you, Cath.  I have a new series!  Hurray!  Well worth reading, especially for country house mystery fans, Regency readers, and anyone who loves Jane Austen.

And in case you wanted another new mystery series to start:

And for those looking for a new paranormal mystery series, this one reviewed over at Lesa's Book Critiques looks very good:  Ghost Seer by Robin D. Owens.  Just released, and it looks interesting. 

Other reviews:
Bellfield Hall
Kittling Books
S.Krishna's Books
Eva at A Striped Armchair


Cath said...

I watched Hamish McBeth years ago on the TV but have not read any of the books. They sound very different to the series.

Talking of crime series set in Scotland, I must recommend the BBC's latest crime series, Shetland, if it comes on TV over there. Based on the Ann Cleeves' Jimmy Perez books of course. I thought it was a terrific series so keep an eye out.

I'm so glad you enjoyed the first Dido kent book, Susan. I thought you would but you can never be sure of course. Love your review. The issues you mention of single women being at their family's beck and call, being dependent and being made to feel it by family, come even more to the fore in the next books. Some of it is quite sad. In other words these books get better and better! I have the fourth one on my library pile and am almost loath to read it as it's the last and I can't see any mention of more anywhere. I hope there are more in the pipeline.

Susan said...

Cath: the books are different in that the man who plays McBeth isn't tall and redhaired! lol the characters are the same, and the setting, and the mysteries, from what I can remember - Toby and I really enjoyed the tv series very much when it came out. I'm enjoying the mysteries very much too, once I let go of the differences in McBeth and his dog.

Oooh, you know I enjoy the Jimmy Perez mysteries so much! I will keep an eye out for Shetland, then. Fingers crossed it comes over here, thanks! I have the fifth one in the series to read on my pile.

I am really hoping I get books 2 and 3 of Dido Kent for my birthday, which like yours is coming up very soon! lol I've put it on my wishlist, anyway. I do like them. thank you for your post which got me to read the copy I owned :-) i am so happy to be reading this series now. One good thing about coming to a series after it starts is there are a few books to read to get caught up in. I think I feel the same way about the Elly Griffiths series, I want to read the next one desperately, and even though I got my name on the list at the library I'm still at #50 in line! I don't want that series to end any time soon either.

Yaay for mystery series!! :-)

Cath said...

Yes, I can't think what the actor is called who played Hamish, very well known, was in The Full Monty. But by the sound of it not at all like the book Hamish!

Oddly enough, they've done the same with the Shetland series. Jimmy is not dark haired as in the book, he's played by Douglas Henshall (Primeval) who is blondish. I wasn't sure at first but I'm now converted. And the scenery is to die for, especially the episode set on Fairisle. It's finished now and I still miss it. I dropped a very big hint to Peter about the recently released dvds and my upcoming birthday. LOL!

I hope you do get the two DK books for your birthday. I loved them so much. Unhesitatedly gave them both a five on Goodreads.

Oh, oh, oh, I have the new Ruth Galloway on my library pile. My daughter got it from Exeter library and saved it for me after she'd read it. *THRILLED*

Cath said...

Robert Carlisle!!!


Donna Farrer said...

The Hamish series was an ok read for me. But maybe I should give it another look, might see it different! I am currently reading Shadows of Doubt by Mell Corcoran, is her site. A great mystery thriller with some paranormal aspects. Really a great read!

Susan said...

Cath: Robert Carlyle, that's it! Lol. I'd been trying to remember it all this time, too! :-D

LUCKY you to have Elly Griffiths out from the library!!! Enjoy! I love this series so much. I like the hint you dropped to Peter, too, for your birthday! I'm still making my list up for Toby :-) plenty of books on it! lol

Donna: Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment. The Hamish McBeth series aren't great mysteries, not deep or thoughtful in any way - they are fun and interesting, light reading light Agatha Christie mysteries are. The characters (especially the characters brought in for the mysteries) can be typecast, though the main characters that live in the town and wander through the books are always well done, as is Hamish, Priscilla, and the recurring cast.

I haven't hear of Mell Corcoran, I'll go look her up. Thanks!

Peggy Ann said...

Love MC Beaton's books . The Agatha Raisin series is fun too but Hamish is my favorite. Read the first Anna Dean book but haven't gotten to the rest yet. They are very good!

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