I think I’m feeling a little cranky because I finished the complete Astreiant series, which just seemed to fit everything I like best in a novel, and now I’m vaguely disappointed in every novel I’ve read since.
By Patricia Wentworth
I’ve had Patricia Wentworth on the periphery of my to-read list for a while now. She’s a contemporary of Agatha Christie, and is often compared to her, and I do love my Agatha Christies! I picked Ladies’ Bane sort of random, thinking that it sounded pretty gothic, which I’m also partial to. And it was very gothic! A young lady marries a man in a whirlwind romance and disappears to his county estate, and when her cousin comes to check on her, she finds her much changed with no idea who to trust. Classic gothic! And Wentworth’s mainstay detective, an elderly ex-governess, doesn’t appear on the scene until a quarter of the way through.
But I don’t know…I read it quickly and enjoyed it, but it very much lacked the spark of Agatha Christie. The characters were not quite dimensional enough, the mystery not quite twisty enough, and the personal touches were a little more crude and even a bit mean. I think this is why detective Miss Silver didn’t quite catch on to the extent of Miss Marple. She’s more judgmental and reproving, and her apparent signature quirk of quoting Tennyson doesn’t really help. I asked my mom, another big Agatha Christie fan, whether I was just missing something with Patricia Wentworth, and she agreed that she hadn’t taken to her at all either.
Some Danger Involved
By Will Thomas
This mystery is very consciously and closely inspired by Sherlock Holmes and Watson. It starts intriguingly enough with our Watson-figure, a down-and-out disgraced academic applying for the job as assistant to an enquiry agent who is demanding and idiosyncratic enough to run off all other applicants. The enquiry agent, the assistant, and surrounding characters are all interesting in distinct ways, but after a while I wanted deeper insight into their characters. The detective himself appears as a bit of a Mary Sue, with the universal respect he garners and his expertise in a range of martial arts. I was unsurprised to read in the author’s biography that he himself studies and practices several forms of martial arts.
The plot also centers around the Jewish community in London in the nineteenth century, and again, it was interesting, but I was a little uneasy that the author may not know enough about Jewish traditions and culture to write accurately and sensitively about it, especially with the lack of subtlety in other parts of the book. So, overall, I enjoyed the book well enough, but wanted more depth across the board.
Dial A For Aunties
By Jesse Q. Sutanto
I’ve been anticipating this rom-com mystery for a couple of months because it has a bonkers set up: after Meddy accidentally kills her blind date (how?), her mom and three aunties try to help her dispose of the body (what?!) on the same day as the expensive society wedding they are all working at (!!!). I had a lot of questions and was looking forward to getting answers, but I was repeatedly disappointed in the reveals. Almost from the beginning, I struggled to relate to the protagonist, who is young—just a few years out of college—and very submissive to her mom and three aunts, who continually direct her life for her in intrusive ways (such as setting up inappropriate blind dates).
A fair amount of the family dynamics are explained as being traditionally Chinese and Indonesian, but read at best as unloving and at worse as abusive. And I think what made this book so difficult for me was it constantly trying to straddle both sides: the older generation has inadvertently caused great harm to Meddy but they mean well, in their own ways, I guess, so all is forgiven; the mother and aunties spend most of their time together sniping at each other and trying to either save face or one-up each other, but they must love each other, I guess, since they are family and are entwined in a family business together; Meddy is a shy and quiet ‘good girl’ who could never kill someone and certainly not then illegally cover it up, even as she does all of these things. The way I felt about the characters from what they said and did was so different from how the book wanted me to see them that I found reading it confusing and frustrating, and I have to admit that I finally gave up before finishing.