Tag Archives: murder mysteries

Review of Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris

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I was a firm fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series long before it got a very racy makeover by HBO in their televised version, True Blood. Read my review of Dead Reckoning here, and my review of Deadlocked here. I also enjoyed Harris’s paranormal whodunit series featuring Harper Connolly, read my review of Grave Sight here.

shakespear's landlordSo would I also appreciate this straight crime novel, introducing Lily Bard that Harris wrote pre-Sookie?  Disguising herself with short hair and baggy clothes, Lily Bard has started a new life; she’s a cleaning lady in the sleepy town of Shakespeare, where she can sweep away the secrets of her dark and violent past. However her plan to live a quiet, unobserved life begins to crumble when she discovers the dead body of her nosy landlord.

Harris has certainly given us a feisty, troubled heroine in Lily. While the novel has provided a murder victim and the puzzle of who exactly has done it – the engine that drives this book forward is Lily’s journey. While being caught up in this adventure, her arid, rigidly controlled life suddenly acquires a lot more complications – and excitement. And some of that excitement is enjoyable, while some of it isn’t…

But for all of this to work, we need to care about Lily – and Harris excels in giving us enjoyably angst-ridden heroines who we can care about. I find it fascinating how much writers reveal about themselves – and while I don’t know whether Harris is a clean freak or not, she seems to admire women who are. Whenever Sookie’s life gets way too much for her to handle, she resorts to cleaning the house from top to bottom. I just wish that I, too, responded to Life’s hiccups by wanting to tidy drawers and scrub surfaces, instead of curling into a ball under the duvet and reaching for another book… And here is Lily – who has been hanging onto her sanity by her fingernails, courtesy of her self-defence classes and the day job where she goes into dirty, untidy dwellings and blasts through them, putting everything in order, again.

So is Lily Bard just another Sookie Stackhouse without the gift/curse of reading other people’s thoughts? No. While there are similarities – they are both young women who have major issues to overcome – there are also important differences. Lily is far chippier and less caring of what other people think – and far more prone to sudden bursts of violence.  However, no matter how engrossing the main protagonist and first person narrator is in crime fiction, the dealbreaker has to be the plot and the unravelling of the murder mystery. And as far as that is concerned, Harris delivers the goods – while establishing Lily Bard as a sufficiently engrossing character to carry a series, she also provides us with an entertaining murder mystery. I didn’t guess the murderer until Lily solved the case, and the book was so satisfactorily wrapped up, Himself rushed out and ordered the rest of the books in the series. As a solid fan of her writing, I am delighted to have come across Lily Bard and her adventures and if you enjoy crime mysteries featuring spiky female protagonists, then give it a go – and whatever you do, don’t judge Charlaine Harris the writer by all the shenanigans that go on in True Blood.
8/10

Review of A Grave Talent – Book 1 of the Kate Martinelli Mysteries by Laurie R. King

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Back in January, I discovered King’s interesting take on the Sherlock Holmes franchaise and reviewed it here. But Himself, who was also very impressed with King’s writing, went looking for her other crime series and thrust this offering into my hands, promising that I’d love it.

graveKate Martinelli, a newly promoted female Homicide detective with a secret to conceal, and Alonzo Hawkin, a world-weary cop trying to make a new life for himself in San Francisco are thrown together to solve a particularly ugly crime. Three young girls are strangled. All children are similar in appearance and all are found near a rural colony, home to a variety of dropouts and eccentric characters. Amongst them is one woman, the enigmatic artist Vaun, who is hiding the terrible truth about her past and her real identity. As they get nearer the solution, Martinelli and Hawkin realise there is a coldly calculating mind at work which they must outmanoeuvre if they are to prevent further killing.

That’s the blurb, more or less. This book was initially published in 1991, and won the 1993 Edgar Award for the best first crime novel of the year. Which should give you an indication that it’s a good ‘un – which it certainly is.

King’s cool, understated prose, pin-sharp characterisation and steadily rising tension put me in mind of P.D. James and Ruth Rendall – and I don’t generally sling those kinds of comparisons around. I have to say that when I initially realised that the crimes they were investigating were the serial deaths of small girls, my heart sank. I read largely for pleasurable escapism, so with young children in the family, I generally don’t want to read about murders in this age group. I gritted my teeth, waiting for the heart-wrenching details from the post mortem… the anguish of the parents… the detectives to go into emotional meltdown over the whole business, taking us with them… And was relieved that there was none of that sloshing around in this novel. While at no time treating the deaths as anything other than wicked, terrible waste of young lives, King has refrained from putting us through the wringer, focusing instead on first the main suspect and then the perpetrator.

If that sounds like the book is lacking in tension – it isn’t. King has an inbuilt instinct for providing sufficient conflict necessary to pull us into her world, while refraining from going OTT. If only the screenwriters of popular TV crime programmes would follow her example, I would have enjoyed the first episode of the latest NCIS series…

But in this book, King isn’t just giving us a gripping murder hunt with a pair of believably complex detectives – she is laying the groundwork for a crime detective series, featuring her main protagonist, Kate Martinelli. So do we care sufficiently for this female detective to want to hunt down other books featuring her? Oh absolutely – in fact the sequel is waiting on the pile beside my bed. And I have a feeling that it may mysteriously jump the queue and be read ahead of the strict order I usually implement.

But don’t take my word for it – give yourself a treat and curl up in front of the fire with A Grave Talent, before the Spring garden yanks you outside.
9/10