Magpie Murders

The first book of the year – ta da!  Don’t look at the calendar.   I know it’s the 14th.   I actually finished it a couple nights ago, which is only slightly better.   I saw several blog posts about this book and it sounded so right up my street that I had to get a copy now now now.   Then I made myself wait until the 1st to start it so it would count for Bev’s Clues challenge.

It seemed like a fun one to start with.   Two books in one.  The first half is the manuscript of the 9th Atticus Pünd novel, Magpie Murders, which is being read by his editor Susan Ryeland.  The novel within the novel is an Agatha Christie type – mysterious deaths in a small village, small circle of suspects, European detective and not bright sidekick set in 1955.   (I had trouble remembering that at first.   Whooping cough?  Why would they die of whooping cough?  Oh, right.   1955)   The trouble is I found this half a bit slow and stilted.  Whether it’s the effort of writing it like it’s 1955, the German detective or he wanted to make it like that, I’m not sure.   The mystery starts with a housekeeper falling down the stairs in the local great house Pye Hall.   Sir Magnus Pye is away (Magnus Pye — get it?) and the housekeeper is alone in the house.   It appears to be a tragic accident.  But is it? Atticus at first refuses to investgate, but changes his mind after the second death.   And I had a serious problem with the second death because lopping someone’s head off with a sword is not easy.   Even axemen with compliant nobles laying their heads on chopping blocks back in the day sometimes had difficulty with it.   An amateur doing it with a moving target – ridiculous.   And if you managed it, I’m sure you’d be covered in blood.  But I’m probably way too uptight about things like that.


The second half flows a lot better.  The author, Alan Conway, dies, an apparent suicide.  But is he?   He seems to have fought with everyone he knew.  Thin-skinned, irascible, annoying-as-hell, the suspects include everyone he knew, at least in Susan’s eyes.   No one else seems to think his death was anything other than what it appeared.   Susan’s an annoying investigator to me.   She’s kind of obnoxious and seems to miss a lot throughout as she keeps saying things like, I didn’t realize until much later…  But I think Anthony Horowitz pulls it out at the end, which makes up for all the typos in the book.   All right, no it doesn’t.   Someone get a damn proofreader in here.   Why on earth should we pay the money we do for new books when they can’t be bothered?  They don’t have half of the expenses they used to (this one was print, but only because I couldn’t wait for the Kindle version.  That’s what comes from reading British book blogs.   Sometimes they get things before us.  And some of us are impatient.)     At any rate, a decent ending can save all the rest and I thought it was pretty good.

So, for Bev’s Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge I’m following this up with an Agatha Christie.   Not only is the Magpie Murders manuscript a Christie homage, there’s an appearance by Christie’s grandson in the book.  I’m going with the last Tommy and Tuppence — Postern of Fate.   I guess it’s the last book she wrote as the last two published were written years before so both Marple and Poirot would have a final case.

I like this Follow the Clues idea so well I’m also doing a non-mystery follow-up.   I don’t know whether this will work or not, (and the trail is thin to be sure) but because the phrase ‘crazy pavement’ is used twice in the book, I decided to read Beverly Nicholl’s Crazy Pavements.   A novel about Bright Young Things in the 20s or 30s.   Not sure which.

This books also qualifies for the Wild Goose Chase #2 – a bird in the title.  And I might as well make it my UK book for the Reading Europe challenge.

Bout of Books and Challenges


So, poor reporting on my part about Bout of Books 18.   I enjoyed it.   Not really sure if I read more than usual or not.   Didn’t finish a book.   I was reading Magpie Murders and I also started Alan Bennett’s Writing Home, I think it’s called.   Early diaries, pieces and the Lady in the Van, collected.   More on those in the future.   At least the first one.   Hopefully both.


I wanted to sign up for some more challenges because I think they’re good for my reading life.   Last year fell a bit flat as one third of my not many books were Agatha Christies and of those I read, many were meh.   At least with classics, even when I don’t like them, I feel like I accomplished something.   I just don’t feel the same about having read The Devereaux Legacy.


Even though I missed it by a half a book last year, I am re-upping and vowing to do better this year.   Karen’s categories are fun and you can do as few as six or as many as 12.



The Wild Goose Challenge from The Bookshelf Gargoyle sounded fun:


1. A book with a word of phrase relating to wildness in the title – any interpretation of the word “wild” is acceptable (eg: The Call of the Wild, Angry Aztecs, Crazy for You; An Untamed State)

2. A book with a species of bird (or the word “bird”) in the title: (eg: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Thorn Birds, Turkey: A Modern History)

3. A book with an exotic or far-flung location in the title – fantasy and mythical locations are acceptable (eg: Paradise Lost, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Atlantis Rising)

4.  A book with an object you might hunt for in the title (eg: Treasure Island, One for the Money, The History of Love, Dreams from my Father, A Monster Calls, All the Answers)

5. A book with a synonym for chase in the title (or its derivatives: chasing, chased, etc) (eg: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Follow the River, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Night Stalker)

6.  A book with a means of transport in the title (eg: If I Built a CarWalk Two Moons, The Girl on the Train)

7.  A book with an object you might take on a search or hunt in the title (eg: The Golden Compass, The Map to Everywhere, Water for Elephants, Team of Rivals )


Clarissa – as punishment for not reading a Greek play last year.   I was hoping just to read two Greek plays this year, but she isn’t hosting that challenge again.   My comment joining went off into cyberspace as they always do with blogspot.   But I will give this a shot.

I think I can do books from 5 different European countries.


All right, I think that’s it.   Probably enough to be going on with.   Happy New Year, all, and happy reading!

One more:

Sherlock Holmes stories throughout the year:

For some reason I can never comment on blogspot blogs with the kind of comment format she has, which seems to be most of them (maybe all?)  Very annoying, so unless she stumbles across this blog, she may never know that I’m joining in unless Cleo who pointed it out lets her know.   (Thanks, Cleo!)

I’m two stories behind, but since I’m skipping Study in Scarlet, catching up shouldn’t be hard.   Provided I actually do it 🙂


And another one,   Keely of Achaemenids is hosting a Russian challenge this year instead of the Ancient Greek.   I like Russian lit so I’m going to join on the lowest level.  Tolstoy, 1-3 works.


This may be the last or maybe not.   Since I’m still finding them, who knows?


Bout of Books 18

Just happened to notice today is the start of Bout of Books 18.  Whenever I’ve signed up before, I haven’t done well.   Maybe a week is too long for me to focus, but with all that room for improvement I will sign up once more and give it a shot!    This goes on for a week and I still can’t download pics, so a boring old link will have to do.

Bout of Books

For a week you read more than you normally would.   There are challenges if you like or not if you don’t.

So, I’m signing up to hopefully get my reading year off to an extra ready start.

Happy 2017!

Well, last year wasn’t much of a year reading-wise (or most other-wises).   I think I finished 34 books, over a third of them Agatha Christies, which is pretty pathetic, but now I’m down to only 3 Christies, I think, so there won’t be that escape hatch any longer.   I took that route twice in the last month, but haven’t written about them.

First was Nemesis.  The penultimate Miss Marple.   Really the last since the last of both Marple and Poirot were written years before.   Not too bad.   A bit rambly.  Miss Marple finally goes pro.   She is offered a chunk of money to solve an unspecified crime by the man she met in the Caribbean.   This sounds like an impossible task, but there’s no penalty for failing, so she accepts and soon she gets some guidance.  She starts to take a tour of stately homes and gardens, but promptly leaves the tour to stay with three witchy sisters in a small town.   Naturally, Miss Marple figures it all out and I figured part of it out, which is my usual.

Right now I can’t seem to download pictures, so take this opportunity to imagine a fine, old English house gently decaying for lack of wealth and Miss Marple knitting away.

Then it was the penultimate Poirot.  Elephants Can Remember.   Again, not a bad idea, but rambly and really not enough story.   Mrs. Oliver is accosted at a writers’ luncheon by an old battle-axe who asks her if her goddaughter’s mother killed her father or her father killed her mother?   Mrs. O has quite a time dredging up memories of this terrible incident which you might think was quite memorable even if you only read about it.    She consults Poirot and together they investigate when it turns out her goddaughter and her fiance would rather like to know, too.   Mrs. Oliver tracks down people who knew them when and Poirot tracks down police and finds out what they knew and after a lot of vague, repetitive interviews, they cobble together enough information to solve the case.   This one I guessed the whole thing.   A major problem with this book is the timeline is hopelessly confused.   It reads like she wrote it to take place 20 years earlier and then changed it to 12, but didn’t change it consistently, or vice versa.   There are clues all through some of which indicate 12 years and some 20.   Guess she was too famous for an editor to point this out.   It’s the sort of case which needs a proper timeline.

Then I watched the Suchet version.   They settled on 12 years earlier, but then, I guess the lack of plot was not enough to fill in the time so they threw in some extra murders and a whole other plot line for Poirot to solve while Ariadne’s off interviewing her elephants.   Naturally, the two plotlines neatly converge and you find out what happened to the older sister of the boy who was killed.   The whole thing makes no freakin’ sense though.   *Spoiler* In order for their plot to work, the couple that killed themselves or each other had to have invited the girl to the house just on the day they died which they would have had absolutely no reason to do.   Actually, there were good reasons not to do it.  So, you rewrite even weak Christie at your peril.*End Spoiler*   Not everyone can write mysteries, that’s all there is to that and apparently for Elephants they hired some people who couldn’t.   They worked in some tortuous psychiatric treatment which apparently while having scary looking equipment, didn’t actually work that way and so there’s now reason for the modern viewer, who apparently can’t go two hours without a gruesome death, to watch.   Meanwhile, the old fashioned viewer is left irritated in the extreme by the poor additional plot.

At this point, you are invited to imagine a crumbling old mansion on a cliff and a young woman walking into danger!


I really hope to do better this year.   I didn’t even manage the six classics.   Too much goofing around and not enough reading.   And definitely not enough knuckling down to tackle the harder stuff.   Wishing everyone a happy 2017!


The Waves

Some people run long distances, some people climb mountains.   Me – I read The Waves.   Deceptively short at 172 pages in my Kindle it was the longest book I’ve ever read, with the possible exception of Frankenstein.  In short, I hated it.   Painful.   It was painful.   It starts off with the voices of six children who all grow up and never stop giving internal monologues, though for some reason, she used the word ‘said.’   Jinny said, Bernard said, except that they don’t.   They also don’t really speak with six voices.   They speak with largely one voice with a distinguishing characteristic or two to differentiate them.   They spout what some consider beautiful poetry and I consider tremendous amounts of drivel.   She has a habit of using words and phrases many times though what they mean to her eludes me.   Waves and water seem to signify time, at least some of the time.   It drips.   Tuesday follows Monday.   A square on an oblong.  Assegais are mentioned frequently.  Certainly more often than they should be for a story taking place in England, though exactly when is impossible to say.   Bernard thinks he’s Byron.  Rhoda’s afraid of everyone.   Jinny is a social butterfly.   Is she on the game?  No idea.   After primary school the girls go one way and the boys another and yet they all apparently stay in touch, though why or when is not clear.   They all more or less fall in love with a guy named Percival and just as it is difficult to understand someone else’s crush, it’s difficult to understand theirs for Percival.

The book gets slightly more tolerable when they hit middle age and then spins off again into pretentious nonsense when Bernard begins his long monologue seemingly to a nearly complete stranger he collars and makes have dinner with him.   But that makes it sound more interesting than it was.   There is no plot, which is not really a problem, but there are no characters either.   Not really.   Susan has pear-shaped eyes.   What the hell do pear-shaped eyes look like?

Sorry, I’m a philistine.   It’s about time you knew.   Perhaps you already did.  The one thing that might have helped would have been being able to look at this cover which I think is gorgeous…  sorry, can’t get it.  It’s on Pinterest and Pinterest only lets you share things to Pinterest.   I hate Pinterest.

No, I got it.   Yay me.   Isn’t it gorgeous?  Far too beautiful for the book within.   Sorry, VW.   Did I mention it was painful?   I’ll get over it someday.  And I need never read that again.   Yay!

Follow the Clues Challenge 2017

Bev of My Reader’s Block has a new challenge which sounds like fun.   You read a series of books which creates itself by each having something in common with the last book.   I’ll post what she wrote to describe it:

Evidence Trail Example: if the first book I read is by Agatha Christie, then my next book could be Arrow Pointing Nowhere by Elizabeth Daly who has often been referred to as “Agatha Christie’s favorite author.” Using “Arrow” from the Daly book’s title, then House of the Arrow by A.E.W. Mason (published in 1924) could be next and it might lead me to another book published in 1924…and so on. If you have doubts about whether your clue is convincing OR you need any clarification about the challenge at all, you may approach the bench with questions (phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com).

There are several levels of participation:
Infraction — six books read in a single chain of evidence
Misdemeanor — eight books read in a single chain of evidence
Felony — ten books read in a single chain of evidence
Capital Offence — twelve books in a single chain of evidence

I think I will go for 10 books.

Check out her site and sign up for the challenge, too.  Or she has a couple of others.  She is a mystery reader, so this is a mystery challenge, if you don’t like mysteries, you’ll have to start your own challenge, but give credit to her if you do!

Deeds of the Disturber

Last week at work there was a disaster — the internet went out.  For hours.  I hadn’t brought my Kindle and neither my phone nor my ipad had a current book loaded and safety features prevented me from signing into the app on the phone.  So I went and looked at the book exchange we have and found Elizabeth Peters’ Deeds of the Disturber.  I had read Peters back in the 80s.  In fact, I may have gotten as far as Disturber in the Amelia Peabody series, but I don’t remember.   It was much as I remember them.  This one was set in England rather than Egypt, but still concerned a mysterious priest appearing by a mummy in the British Museum.  The entire Emerson family are Egyptian experts and almost insufferably arrogant, but they are fun books.  Not fairly clued.  Maybe that’s why they’re referred to as novels of suspense in their latest edition, not that there’s a whole lot of that, either.  They’re pretty cozy, somewhat amusing, a bit frustrating.  I still think half what the criminals did was unnecessary.  Don’t read it for a clever mystery.   Read it if you like Victorian Egyptology with a bit of adventure thrown in and a pedantic child.


Forgot to mention one of my favorite things.   Amelia applies to Scotland Yard for information and works with none other than The Moonstone’s Inspector Cuff!   I love stuff like that.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.