Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Black Cabinet (Book Review)

Title: The Black Cabinet
Author: Patricia Wentworth
Publication: Trade Paperback, 2016, Dean Street Press; originally published in 1925 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Golden Age of Mystery
Plot: Poor but honest, not to mention lovely, Chloe Dane works for a dressmaker and tries to avoid the affluent friends from the world she was born in; she knows she can’t afford their amusements and won’t accept charity.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

H is for Hawk (Book Review)

Title: H is for Hawk
Author: Helen Macdonald
Publication: Grove Press, 2014, Hardcover
Genre: Memoir/Nature
Plot: When Helen Macdonald unexpectedly loses her father, the only way she can endure her grief is to take on the challenge of training a goshawk, using a little known book by the author of The Once and Future King as her guide and retreating from friends and colleagues to an isolated cottage, where she can immerse herself in falconry – and where she becomes as feral as the creature she is trying to tame.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Death at St. Vedast (Book Review)

Title: Death at St. Vedast: Bianca Goddard Mystery #3
Author: Mary Lawrence
Publication: Kensington, Trade Paperback, 2017
Genre: Historical Mystery
Plot: Bianca Goddard is the daughter of a notorious alchemist and was once accused of murder herself in intolerant Tudor England, but does not allow her humble station to prevent her from expressing herself. Recently married to John Grunt, a silversmith’s apprentice who does not appreciate his wife’s outspoken ways, Bianca has moved to a new neighborhood of London with John to advance his career, temporarily putting aside her skill concocting cures and medicines. John and Bianca are welcomed to London by his patron Boisvert, the master silversmith, and Boisvert’s fiancée, Odile Farendon. However, when tragedy strikes, Bianca refuses to keep a low profile and boldly investigates several mysteries that all seem to lead back to their church, St. Vedast.

Audience: Fans of historical mysteries by authors like Fiona Buckley, Ariana Franklin, Kate Sedley

My Impressions: I enjoyed this mystery vividly set in a London that is as full of politics as the nearby court of Henry VIII, although it is not the machinations of Thomas Cromwell at issue but the artisans whose industry fuels a less elegant but equally important role in society. After a slow beginning and despite some difficulty keeping track of the characters initially, the story came together and built to a dramatic climax. I appreciated the way Bianca interacts with minor and major characters, extracting information to solve the mysterious poisonings that have disrupted the community.  Lawrence's portrayal of 1543 London is colorful and provides an interesting contrast to the more frequently depicted scenes of Tudor nobility.

Historical fiction is a tricky undertaking and easy to criticize: if there is too much history, the story can become didactic and dull. Similarly, if the language is too authentic (forsooth!), a modern reader would become impatient. Then you have me, with my former editor eye and my 16th century History and Literature concentration, very critical of anachronisms which I consider a lack of care or failure to properly research one’s historical period. However, Mary Lawrence’s research appeared impeccable to me and reflects hard work, and my only critique is that a woman in Bianca’s position – both as a lowly apprentice’s wife and her apparent notoriety from an earlier book/previous accusation of murder, not to mention her gender – make it very unlikely she could gain the needed entré to conduct the type of investigation necessary to solve this mystery. Still, sometimes a murder mystery requires some suspension of disbelief and despite the above quibbles, I thought Lawrence did a good job of creating a logical path for her sleuth to untangle the mystery but could do without Bianca’s predilection for rats.
Henry VIII is only referred to in this book but I have had a weakness for him since childhood
Source: I obtained a copy of this book from the Minuteman Library System. It is against my usual rule to start a series in the middle but it was not an impediment to enjoying this book although I could not figure out what she sees in her whiny husband.