Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Reading Report: Jerusalem Inn

Jerusalem Inn
(A Richard Jury Mystery)
Written by Martha Grimes

First published 1984

Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Richard Jury is spending a dreary Christmas in Newcastle when he unexpectedly meets an interesting woman in a snow-covered graveyard. Helen Minton is beautiful, unhappy and mysterious, and Jury thinks she could easily brighten up his sagging holiday spirits. Unfortunately, the next time he sees her, she’s been murdered. 

Meanwhile, Melrose Plant, Jury's aristocratic sidekick and unofficial assistant, isn't faring much better. Snowbound at a stately mansion owned by critic Charles Sealingham and his wife Grace, Plant mixes with a group of artists and idle aristocrats. There he encounters another lovely lady, romance writer Beatrice Sleight. But shortly afterward he stumbles over her corpse in the snow. She’s been shot while wearing a distinctive ermine cloak belonging to her hostess, Grace Sealingham.

Seeking clues in Helen’s murder, Jury eventually arrives at the mansion, discovers Plant, and the two friends team up for the rest of the investigation. Both murders seem to be linked to a remote country pub – Jerusalem Inn –where the game of snooker, a Nativity scene, some fairly complicated family histories, and an old secret will all play their parts in helping Jury uncover a killer and solve a murder that has come to feel much too personal. 

I’ve heard so much praise for Martha Grimes’s series of Richard Jury novels, I was really expecting to enjoy this one more than I did. It’s number five in the series, but the first one I’ve read and I think I definitely would have benefited from reading at least a couple of the earlier novels first. I was a little lost at first – and while I liked the parts of the book that concentrated on Jury and his investigations, I had a hard time warming up to Melrose Plant and his ditzy Aunt Agatha and all their madcap friends and relations. 

At first, the “Jury” part of the book (which I liked) and the “Melrose” part (which I didn’t, much) really seemed like two completely different tales, one having nothing to do with the other. After they finally came together and I understood what was going on and how they matched up, I warmed to the story and characters a little more and actually enjoyed the last third or so quite a lot. But there’s a lot of needless “drawing room” chatter and more info than I really needed about the game of snooker. It diverts attention away from the mystery and sort of bored me. So, just an "OK" read and not one of my favorites of the year, but it certainly hasn’t put me off the idea of sampling more from the series. 

Rating: ✭✭½


Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

2021 Category Challenge at LibraryThing
2021 Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge
2021 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Reading Report: 1066 and All That

1066 and All That
Written by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman
Illustrated by John Reynolds

First published 1930

This classic satire on textbook history was first published in 1930, in Britain's comic journal Punch, and it's laugh-out-loud inspired British silliness. I've had it on my TBR pile for decades now, and finally pulled it out to read this year back in January. Why ever did I wait so long? I really loved it and it's one of those books I'm sure I'll read again. A lot of it reminded me just a bit of those crazy monologues Ronnie Corbett used to do on The Two Ronnies TV show.

A few very random samples:
"Canute had two sons, Halfacanute and Partacanute, and two other offspring, Rathacanute and Hardlicanute, whom, however, he would never acknowledge, denying to the last that he was their Fathacanute."

"Robin Hood was a miraculous shot with the longbow and it is said that he could split a hare at 400 paces and a Sheriff at 800."

"There was also in Queen Victoria's reign a famous inventor and poet called Oscar Wilde who wrote very well but behaved rather beardsley; he made himself memorable by inventing Art, Asceticism, etc., and was the leader of a set of disgusting old gentlemen called 'the naughty nineties.' "

The book even includes several helpful "test papers" at regular intervals, with such pithy questions as:

What would have happened if (a) Boadicea had been the daughter of Edward the Confessor? (b) Canute had succeeded in sitting on the waves? Does it matter?

Have you the faintest recollection of
(1) Ethelbreth?
(2) Athelthral?
(3) Thruthelthrolth?
What have you the faintest recollection of?

Did anybody say "I know that no one can save this country and that nobody else can"? If not, who did say it?

What is a Plantagenet? Do you agree?

The book's subtitle (in part) states that it's "A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember...." And that's probably very true. It's certainly one of the funniest histories you'll ever read. 

Rating: ✭✭✭✭


Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

Reading Report: Nemesis by Agatha Christie

Nemesis (A Miss Marple Mystery)
by Agatha Christie

First published 1971

It's been quite a while since I posted any reviews here on the blog. I've been reading, and posting reviews in other places, but for some reason I've been neglecting the blog. So I thought I might start trying to do a little catch-up work and just say a few words about some of the books I've read during the first half of this year.

And I suppose a good place to start would be at the beginning, with the first book I read back in January. 

In this next-to-last Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie, Jane Marple receives a posthumous request from recently-deceased millionaire Jason Rafiel to investigate a mystery. If she accepts the job and solves the mystery, she'll receive a legacy of £20,000. She's met Rafiel before — they worked together on an earlier mystery (which you can read about in Christie's A Caribbean Mystery, from 1964), so she knows he's eccentric but reliable.

Problem is, Mr. Rafiel doesn't leave any information about the mystery — no clues, no suspect or suspects, no advice about where to start. All she knows is that he wants her to go on a coach tour of English gardens and country houses, which he has arranged and paid for. Now in her eighties, Miss Marple is a bit reluctant at first, but ultimately can't resist the intriguing challenge.

This was a fun read and a good book to start the year with. And though it's hard to improve on Agatha Christie, I think this would have been an even better read (maybe even 5 out of 5 stars) if there hadn't been so much repetition throughout the book. It seemed like every few pages, we'd get another summary of the story so far, or  recap of the assignment Miss Marple was working on. That got very tedious very quickly. But any Miss Marple is better than no Miss Marple, and I'm very sad to realize that I've almost finished the series! (Well, finished with the novels, anyway.) Guess I'll have to start over from the beginning.

Rating: ✭✭✭✭

Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

Friday, July 02, 2021

Book Beginnings: Smilla's Sense of Snow

by Peter HΓΈeg
First published 1992

Opening Lines
It’s freezing — an extraordinary 0° Fahrenheit — and it’s snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik — big, almost weightless crystals falling in clumps and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.

About the Book
Smilla Jesperson, who lives in a world of numbers, science and memories, is a stranger in a strange land.  And now Smilla is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime...
It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice. (Pubisher's description)

Initial Thoughts
I've had this one on my TBR list ever since I first heard about it back in the '90s. It caused quite a sensation when it was originally published, and became an international best-seller. Sorry it took me so long to get to it, because I'm really enjoying it so far. And even though I'm not a cold weather lover, it's been sort of comforting to read about all that ice and snow in this triple-digit heat we've been having lately. Snow is so lovely...if I don't have to be out in it.

Have a good weekend, everyone.
And happy reading!

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.