Month: October 2017

Final decision about Bookish Pursuits

After discussing the blog with my co-blogger, Obsidian Blue, I’m going to be shutting down Bookish Pursuits sometime after the new year, but before my domain renews in March. Continuing to pay the hosting fees on a blog in which I’ve lost interest doesn’t make sense.

I will continue to be active on Booklikes, and you can find me there as Moonlight Reader. Obsidian Blue will also continue to be active on Booklikes, and you can find her reviews, comments, and other posts on her blog at Obsidian Blue.

I’ve also decided that I need a fresh blogging start to document my two main reading loves: classic crime and vintage women authors. I’m going to be blogging about classic crime at Peril at Whitehaven Mansions and about vintage women authors at All The Vintage Ladies. If you’re interested in either of those topics, follow me there!

This blog will remain up for the next three to four months as I slowly migrate my content to other places – some of it will be posted on the new blogs, where it fits, and some of it will just be saved into document for posterity!

Happy reading!

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt

The Secret Woman by Victoria HoltThe Secret Woman by Victoria Holt
Published by Sourcebooks on January 1st 1970
Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense, Gothic romance
Pages: 379
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
one-half-stars

Will she find love at sea, or is she getting herself into deep water?

Anna Brett is a governess to a wealthy English family, a role she's convinced she'll be doomed to live the rest of her life. But when she meets Redvers Stretton, the dashing captain of a ship named The Secret Woman, and she's whisked from the bleak British coast to the sunny South Seas, she quickly realizes that things will never be the same. But with a murder dogging her steps and the mystery of a missing treasure haunting her dreams, Anna is forced to confront the clever captain-a man who may have just as many secrets as his ship.

First published in 1970, The Secret Woman was written by the prolific Eleanor Hibbert under her Victoria Holt pen name. While this book was published in “Holt’s” early period, it was actually published in the middle period for Hibbert. There were a total of 32 books published under the “Holt” name, and of those 32, approximately 23 of them were published after The Secret Woman.

Victoria Holt tends to be very hit and miss. This one is a miss.

I think that, perhaps, Holt was going for an homage to Jane Eyre with this one, with Redvers as the Rochester character, the conveniently orphaned Anna as Jane, and Redver’s wife, Monique, as the ill-fated Bertha. Like Bertha, the mildly mentally ill, consumptive Monique comes from an apparently fictional island named Coralle. Bertha, of course, is from Jamaica, and is the daughter of a wealthy family.

The issues with this book start with the pacing. The plot summary is misleading in that most of the elements referenced in the summary do not appear until the 50% mark of the book. The first 50% of the book felt relatively superfluous, focusing on Anna’s childhood and young adulthood, being first sent to England without her parents, later being orphaned, and then being raised by her unpleasant, unloving, bitter Aunt Charlotte. This, again, may be an ill-advised attempt to copy Jane Eyre. Few writers have the skill to write a Jane Eyre character, and Holt fails completely.

The “meet cute” between our hero and heroine also fails. Redvers and Anna meet when she is 12 and he is 19. I can understand her romanticizing him, since he is a dashing young man. I cannot understand, and am entirely grossed out, by his apparent romanticizing of her. She was twelve. There is nothing at twelve to attract a young man of nineteen.

It isn’t until around the 55% mark that Red & Anna end up in one another’s company consistently. From there, the book devolves into a shipboard travelogue. Way too much of the narration is delivered through the diary of the third-wheel Chantel, which ground the story to a halt. The suspense/gothic elements don’t appear until around 75%, and by that time, I am done. That section could’ve actually been pretty interesting, if it had been expanded to be more of the book, and if Holt hadn’t decided that the best way to deliver the reveal was through a letter.

Note to authors: telling us why and how something happened through a letter written by the perpetrator is generally not an emotionally resonant method of storytelling. Again, the tension, the suspense, the drama grinds to a freaking halt while I read a three page letter written by the villain/ess (no spoilers here) as he/she is in his/her death throes.

As an Eyre retelling: fail. As a gothic/romantic suspense: fail. As a period drama: fail. If you aren’t a Holt completist, don’t bother with this one. First you’ll be bored, then you’ll be irritated.

one-half-stars

Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne

Murder of a Lady by Anthony WynneMurder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
Published by British Library Crime Classics on 1931
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

Duchlan Castle is a gloomy, forbidding place in the Scottish Highlands. Late one night the body of Mary Gregor, sister of the laird of Duchlan, is found in the castle. She has been stabbed to death in her bedroom - but the room is locked from within and the windows are barred. The only tiny clue to the culprit is a silver fish's scale, left on the floor next to Mary's body.Inspector Dundas is dispatched to Duchlan to investigate the case. The Gregor family and their servants are quick - perhaps too quick - to explain that Mary was a kind and charitable woman. Dundas uncovers a more complex truth, and the cruel character of the dead woman continues to pervade the house after her death. Soon further deaths, equally impossible, occur, and the atmosphere grows ever darker. Superstitious locals believe that fish creatures from the nearby waters are responsible; but luckily for Inspector Dundas, the gifted amateur sleuth Eustace Hailey is on the scene, and unravels a more logical solution to this most fiendish of plots.

I found this book to be delightful and the ending made me laugh out loud with glee. The solution to the “impossible crime” was absurd and contrived – as these impossible crime solutions often are – but not such that I was annoyed.

I didn’t guess whodunnit. I was pretty sure throughout the entire thing whodidntdunit, and I was right about that, but I focused on the wrong character! Since there is no way to do spoiler tags on wordpress, I won’t say more on that subject here.

The victim, Mary Gregor, was an odious woman. She reminded me a lot of Mrs. Boynton, from Appointment With Death, which remains one of my favorite Christie mysteries. Some people go unmourned for good reason, and it is unwise to press people beyond their breaking point. The solution was reminiscent of another Christie mystery, but, again, I will refrain to avoid spoiling. I will say that Mrs. Christie’s version was published a few years later than this one, so no one can accuse Mr. Wynne of stealing her idea!

The second inspector sent to investigate, Barley, was a blooming idiot with a bad case of confirmation bias – he decided who did it, and then tried to squash the evidence into agreeing with him. And there were altogether too many characters who were willing to commit suicide to protect someone else.

The book did drag a bit – this I cannot deny, and the talky-mc-talkerson grew tiresome. I was totally astonished by the THIRD murder, and by the fourth, I was dying to get to the end! Overall, this ended up being one of my favorite of the BLCC reissues.

four-stars

Book Haul for Friday, October 6

I usually do my book buying on Friday, both because Friday’s are payday, and because I’m always looking for new reading for the weekend. Today’s book haul is:

The Clue by Carolyn Wells: Initially published in 1909, this one has been picked up and republished by Open Road Media Mysterious Press, which is doing great work in republishing older mysteries. The Clue is the first book in Wells’s long running Fleming Stone series, and is (allegedly) a locked room mystery.

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt: This book was originally published in 1970, which puts in the early third of Victoria Holt’s career. It’s been my experience that her earlier books are better, so I have high(ish) hopes for this one. This is a planned buddy read with my co-blogger, Obsidian Blue.

The Judas Window by John Dickson Carr: I’ve heard a lot about John Dickson Carr, but this is my first book by him. He is known for his locked room/impossible crime style mysteries. This one was published in 1938, and is the 8th in the Sir Henry Merrivale series.

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham: This is the 14th Albert Campion mystery, and was published in 1952. I’ve only read one other Campion, The Crime at the Black Dudley, which was a bit disappointing, prior to this one. J.K. Rowling is a fan of this specific book. The Tiger in the Smoke is mentioned in Chapter 8 of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (TSCC), the section on “Capital Crimes.”

The Medbury Fort Murder by George Linnelius: Another locked room mystery identified in TSCC, this one was published in 1929.

Capital Crimes (anthology) edited by Martin Edwards: I really enjoyed Miraculous Murders: Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes, also edited by Martin Edwards. This anthology collects stories set in London, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m not the hugest short story fan, but I love mysteries set in London.

The zombie rises!

I’m not sure how successful I will be in reanimating the corpse of this poor blog, but I’m going to give it a try!

Rather than try to review every book I read – a goal that is doomed to failure because I just read far too many books to ever accomplish this, and I don’t actually find writing reviews to be all that interesting – I am going to make an effort to track my two current main reading projects on this blog:

1. Mansions, Moonlight and Menace: this project has been going for a couple of years and is focused on gothic literature, both classic and more modern, which would include the category of new gothic or gothic romance that is represented by Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Dorothy Eden and Madeleine Brent. Some of these authors have had their backlists published as kindle books, including Phyllis Whitney, who has been picked up by Open Road Media, and Mary Stewart, whose catalog became available to US readers in September, 2017. These are increasinly easy to obtain, and the ones that aren’t yet available digitally are often available used through various websites.

2. The Detection Club: This is my main reading love right now! So much vintage crime is being reissued for the kindle for just a few dollars, providing an opportunity to read authors who are long out of print. This would’ve been impossible five years ago, so the opportunity is really just truly incredible. I did a Poirot project not long ago, and read them all. I posted about some of them, but most of them got by me without a write up and I am ready for a reread in any case. This category also includes Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham, as well as the British Library Crime Classics. I am in love with the BLCC editions and am really interested in getting to know some of these authors that have been neglected for many years.

I may be adding a project related to vintage spy fiction at some point – I read a ton of cold war spy fiction in my youth and would love to revisit some of it.

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