ASHES OF LONDON by Andrew Taylor
London is burning. It’s September, 1666, and the great fire is consuming everything in its path. Bodies lie scorched and burned beyond recognition and the flames are now encroaching upon St. Paul’s Cathedral. When a body is found in St. Paul’s, showing all the signs of murder and not death due to conflagration, James Marwood is given the task of ferreting out the murderer. Marwood, the son of a disgraced printer and now he himself a reluctant informer for the government, must step lightly as these are dangerous times, politically.
I was expecting a novel of epic proportions, with great intrigue and puzzling murders. What I got was not a lot of intrigue, a couple of murders whose perpetrator could only be one particular person, and no “epic” to speak of.
At the beginning of the novel, I felt that the author employed a bit of misdirection when he talked about Marwood returning to “Scotland Yard”. Initially I wondered if he was a detective/policeman with the Yard but that didn’t make sense since the London police force wasn’t founded until 1829, and the formation of Scotland Yard followed shortly after that. This caused me to reread the passage explaining his occupation and as I continued reading further, Scotland Yard was referred to as an area where many government buildings were located.
After that diversion, I continued without too much enthusiasm. Marwood’s investigation (if you can call it that), was poor to middling, and the motivations of many of the other characters were poorly expressed. In summary, I’d reach for this novel only if there was nothing else on the shelf to read!
FIELDS WHERE THEY LAY: A Junior Bender Holiday Mystery by Timothy Hallinan
Junior Bender has issues with Christmas. This year he’ll be facing them head-on while patrolling the halls of Edgerton Mall in Hollywood. He’s been hired by the owner (a Russian mobster), under threat, to find out why shop-lifting has reached an all-time high during this Christmas season. Junior, by profession, is a burglar and one of the best. If anyone can work out how so much merchandise is going out the door without anyone seeing it happen, Junior can. But shop-lifting isn’t the only problem here. Like so many malls, this one is a shadow of its former self with vacant stores, others selling cheap bric-a-brac, and a serious decline in patrons, and as Christmas Eve approaches, two people are found dead.
Hallinan has crafted a clever mystery choc-a-bloc full of little tidbits of information that sent me off fact-checking. Not only did I enjoy a great read, but I learned all sorts of things about antiques, the beginnings of “Amazon”, and architecture. The other two story lines that were woven into the plot were equally enjoyable and confirmed that this is a series that I will continue to read.
Junior is a great character with depth, compassion, humour, and lots of smarts.
This reads well as a stand-alone though it is the sixth in the Junior Bender series.
I’ll be going back to the first – Crashed – to get the full back story.