Do writers have a “best before date”? I’m beginning to think so, especially since reading Peter Robinson’s Many Rivers to Cross, Ann Cleeves’ The Long Call and now Grimes’ The Old Success. For each of these stories is just not up to the caliber that one would expect of these authors.
The Old Success is the 25th in the Richard Jury series and I was looking forward to some insight into one of his old cases but this was not to be. Instead, Grimes has Jury collaborate with a DI with the Devon-Cornwall police and a former CID detective who has the reputation of solving every case he’s ever taken on, but one. The three are tasked with investigating a series of 3 murders over the course of a few weeks.
Missing is the wit that Grimes brings to our favorite characters. In fact, missing are our favorite characters! For they get barely a mention in this story. What we do get are some new characters who appear on the page without any introduction, causing me to ask: “who are you and what are you doing in this story?” As a result, rather than becoming a book that I couldn’t put down, this one was a book that I had to force myself to finish reading.
Maybe Grimes was counting on her previous reputation to carry this book – in other words, her “Old Success”. If so, it didn’t work for this reader.
Having read these three mysteries, back-to-back, I thought I’d do a comparison of them. Robinson’s latest centers on the discovery of the body of a teenage boy, stuffed into a wheelie bin. A secondary story-line involves Zelda, Annie’s father’s partner, who is a victim of human trafficking. Banks comes across as arrogant, pompous, and acting as a lone wolf as he interviews suspects and reveals details of the cases to the very suspects that he’s investigating. His constant references to musical artists and obscure songs has now become tiresome and boring. The rest of his team are seldom present during this overly-long story. Banks and the other characters have no personality, no individuality, and are wooden and cold.
One would never be able to pick them out of a line-up, having no real sense of what they even look like.
Crombie takes her characters out of London and into the country as Duncan, Gemma, and family are guests at the family estate of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s detective sergeant. But the quiet weekend that they’d all hoped for is not to be when a tragic car accident, followed by a series of mysterious deaths, draws Kincaid and Gemma into the investigation. The complex relationships between the characters are fully explored, giving the reader a true picture of each participant in the story. I felt that I really knew these people and understood their motivations.
Logan McRae has a particularly gruesome case to tackle, in McBride’s fourth installment of this intense series. A legal appeal has released a convicted serial killer back into the community 20 years after his crimes. Now people are going missing again and human meat is being found in butchers’ shops. McRae, along with DI Steele and Insch literally jump off the page as they go about the grisly task of finding the killer, leaving the reader laughing at the gallows-humour and eccentricities of these colorful, well-formed characters. McBride’s ability to bring his characters to life is second-to-none, and even the dead victims have more life than any of the characters in Peter Robinson’s latest.
As a fan of Booth’s Cooper and Fry series, I was looking forward to reading this standalone mystery . However, disappointment lay between the pages of this much-too-long tome. I can only wonder how lengthy this book was before the editor whittled it down because there was so much more that could have been deleted without losing the tone of the story, which was poor, at best.
Chris Buckley, a not too likeable character, has recently lost his parents, is facing redundancy and has entered into a business partnership in a rather dubious endeavor. He is approached by an elderly man, Samuel Longden, who states that
he is a distant relative of Chris’ and is writing a book about their family history and could use Chris’ help. Chris is not at all interested in any collaboration with Longden and decides to forego a pre-arranged meeting with him only to later learn that Longden has been killed in a hit and run accident.
Longden has left Chris a legacy in his will but only if Chris completes the book. With his finances being severely strained, Chris decides to take on this task. With the introduction of Chris’ extensive family, I found it very confusing as to where to place each person on the family tree and how they were related to one another. In some cases a character would appear briefly, interacting with Chris, and then drop out of the story for another hundred pages, leaving the reader to wonder what their importance was and how they fit into the mystery.
Reading the last page of this book was more of a “thank goodness that’s over” than “what a good story”. I expected more of this author.
So what are you looking for in a Christmas mystery?
If you’re looking for an atmospheric, cozy mystery then choose something by Canadian writer, Vicki Delany. Her latest novel, Silent Night, Deadly Night, has a good mystery at its core as the residents of Rudolph (a year-round Christmas community) are subjected to a group of “grinches” who almost kill the spirit of Christmas. Christmas lives, but one of the grinches does not.
I’d steer away from Leslie Meier’s latest – Yule Log Murder. A shallower group of characters you’ll never find. And when it comes to plot? Well, you’d get more satisfaction from reading the back of a cereal box!
It is said that “variety is the spice of life” and you’ll find that in abundance in Otto Penzler’s anthology: Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop. For seventeen years Penzler (owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York), commissioned a Christmas story from a leading suspense writer. The stories were printed as pamphlets (a limited number of 1000 only) and handed out to the customers as a Christmas present. All seventeen are now contained in one volume and there are certainly some gems amongst them.
L.J. Oliver’s The HumbugMurders is the first book in The Ebenezer Scrooge Mystery series. Scrooge is tasked with investigating the murder of his former boss, Fezziwig, when Fezziwig’s ghost visits him one night. The book is peopled by so many of the characters from Dickens’ novels that some simply pop in, make an appearance and then disappear, never to be heard of again. About the only character we don’t encounter is Madame Defarge! Overstuffed with characters, and a series of repulsive crimes make this a most unenjoyable read.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All. May you find some great “reads” under your Christmas tree!
Rex Graves, Q.C., is invited to spend Christmas at Swanmere Manor, a Victorian hotel in the English countryside, by his mother’s friend, the eccentric Dahlia Smithings. The other hotel guests reads like cast of characters from a stage play – the tipsy handyman, the newlywed couple, the gay antiques dealer and his partner, the secretive writer, and the femme fatale.
When old Mr. Lawdry is found dead in the drawing room and Rex determines the death to be a murder, the tension amongst the guests increases. The situation is further complicated when a snowstorm takes out the phone lines and makes it impossible to go for help. When two more people, with no apparent connection to one another are murdered, Rex takes it upon himself to suss out the killer.
Filled with clichés, risqué innuendos, and a few funny moments, this book can help you bide the time if you, too, are snowed in and the phone lines are down!
Don’t take it too seriously – it’s meant to be a bit of a laugh.