Books

A 1934 Murder Mystery With an Unlikely Culprit

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Shows strong research
  • Unexpected twist ending
  • Interesting, complex protagonist
  • Complicated mystery
  • Chapter titles inspired by campanology

Cons

  • Some of the figurative language is poorly done
  • Ending is improbable

Review

I read The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers for my Modern Christian Writers class. Honestly, other than a major setting being a church, I did not find the book especially religious in nature. I would say at least that it does not appeal just to a Christian audience–it will have much wider appeal.

My favorite aspect of this novel is the focus on change-ringing or campanology. I had never realized the ringing of bells such as those in a church was such a complicated, mathematical, graceful, and artful process. There is a whole set of terminology in change-ringing that Dorothy L. Sayers uses masterfully. The chapter titles are inspired by phrases and terms from campanology–for example “Tailor Paul is Called Before With a Single,” “Plain Hunting,” and “Mr. Gotobed is Called Wrong with a Double”.

Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant Bunter are charming characters. Wimsey both confirms and denies stereotypes of the monocled aristocrat-detective. He is more empathetic than the typical Sherlockian detective, yet maintains that most people are idiots. Bunter is not a simple Watson either. He is knowledgeable about a variety of important and many obscure topics.

That being said, some of Dorothy L. Sayers’ language and diction was poorly constructed. For instance, she uses the simile “blind as an eyeless beggar”…which frankly, sucks. So she’s saying it’s as blind as…someone with no eyes? As blind as a blind person? Not only is that not creative, it’s also completely redundant.

The ending is far-fetched, but it is also hard to predict. I can see how some people would appreciate its originality while others may criticize its improbable nature.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to mystery and music lovers in particular, but believe that many readers would appreciate the book’s creative aspects and strong research.

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Books

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny is A Compelling Sequel to Still Life

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Rating: 8.0 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Strong writing voice
  • Brilliant descriptions
  • Cozy small town setting
  • Most of the characters are likeable and beautifully written
  • LGBTQ+ representation
  • Creative murder method
  • Interesting poetry

Cons

  • Penny’s treatment of an overweight character and obsession with her weight comes off like fat-shaming
  • Characters such as the murder victim are one-dimensional

Review

There are no spoilers for A Fatal Grace in this review, but there are a few minor spoilers for Still Life, the first book in the series.

There are plenty of strange ways to kill a person, but electrocution on a frozen lake during a curling match wins the prize. And that’s no spoiler–it was in the blurb on the back of my version of the book. We know the victim is CC Poitiers from the first page. She’s one of the one-dimensional characters I was talking about. She’s just plain evil, like Disney’s 1961 Cruella de Vil. She even wears shoes made from the pelts of baby seals.

Touching her was like caressing a veneer of ice. There was a beauty to it, and a frailty he found attractive. But there was also danger. If she ever broke, if she shattered, she would tear him to pieces.”

Saul referring to CC

She’s prideful, cruel, abusive and detestable. She wrote an utter trash manuscript and embraced the appropriated and distorted philosophies of several cultures.

Publishing companies “immediately recogniz[ed] the manuscript as a flaccid mishmash of ridiculous self-help philosophies, wrapped in half-baked Buddhist and Hindu teachings, spewed forth by a woman whose cover photo looked as though she’d eat her young.”

With the way she treats her daughter Crie, it seems that she barely stopped short of eating her young. Crie is overweight and timidly wants her mother’s affection. Those are basically the two things we learn about her for almost the whole novel.

I hate how Penny repeatedly emphasizes how fat Crie is in really uncomfortable language.

And beside him an enormous child was wearing a sleeveless sundress of the brightest pink. Her underarms bulged and flopped and the rolls of her waist made the skintight dress look like a melting strawberry ice cream. It was grotesque.

Penny describing Crie

This is cringey and insensitive. This is a child we are talking about, and just because she is obese doesn’t mean everyone has to think of her as grotesque or gross. It keeps happening.

Madame Latour stared at the huge girl and felt a bit of her lunch in her throat. Those rolls of fat, those dreadful dimples, the underwear disappearing into the flesh.”

Seriously? She is so obese that she makes someone almost throw up? I don’t know why Penny needs to emphasize that Crie is unattractive and “grotesque.” She’s just a kid and she’s overweight, so what? Crie doesn’t get much development or depth for most of the book, which is a shame.

Armand Gamache on the other hand, has plenty of depth and is a character I can truly appreciate. He can be careful, pushy, kind, stern, intelligent, ignorant…

Armand Gamache knew something many of his colleagues never figured out. Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.

I love this description. Like much of Penny’s prose, it has a spark of inspiration to it. I also enjoyed the poetry by Ruth Zardo, another beloved character.

You were a moth

Brushing against my cheek

in the dark.

I killed you

not knowing

you were only a moth

with no sting.”

Ruth Zardo’s poem

It was nice to see some LGBTQ+ representation in the novel, mostly through Gabri and his partner Olivier, who are frankly cute together. Remember Phillipe from the first novel? He makes a reappearance too.

The research was good. She was either already very familiar with the sport of curling, or learned a bunch from research. Same with the details of the electrocution. A lot of work went into those details.

The ending was interesting and even though my prediction was correct, I wasn’t right about everything, and I don’t think everyone will predict it.

I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates a good murder mystery and would appreciate a murder that is outside the norm.

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Books

Review of The Body in the Park: A Razzy Cat Cozy Mystery

By Courtney McFarlin (c) 2021

Spoiler Alert! This is a cute book!

Book Review by Joanne Brown

Rated 9 out of 10 stars

Why this book?

So, I have been feeling a little bit listless. Is it the winter doldrums? I mean six more weeks of winter – though I predicted it the day before Punxsutawney Phil did! Is it spring fever? Or. maybe it’s because I am wanting to do something different at my job? … Whatever the deal, I read this book because it came up on my feed on bookbub.com. (Remember, I told you about that in my last review … The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser.) It sounded different. It seemed light. It was a mystery, which I always enjoy. And, it was FREE!

I expected it to be just one of those feel good fluff books that I sometimes read just to pass some time and that that would be the end of it. Well, I was right and I was wrong. This book is a feel good book. And it is fluffy (more about that below!). But, I found out it was more than just a page-turner to discard when I was finished. It ended up being an imaginative and enticing little fun read that got me addicted – kind of like m&ms or potato chips – you know: Ya can’t eat just one! It’s not War & Peace. It’s not Gone with the Wind. It’s just a cute little book that sparked my imagination as I willingly suspended my disbelief and just enjoyed it. I think you will like it too!

In the beginning …

As we begin the book, we met Hannah Murphy, a writer for The Post, a small newspaper in Golden Hills Colorado. She had been writing – of all things FLUFF pieces (ha ha!) for the past two years! She yearned to write stuff with meat. And if truth be told, she wants to make a name as a reporter.

As she is leaving work that day, two things happen: 1. Her Editor, Tom Anderson, calls her into the office. He’s a scary guy to just about everyone at the newspaper, but Hannah is able to see past his gruffness. She isn’t afraid of him – very much. He tells her that he appreciates the hard work she has done and realizes that she wants to use her talent on bigger works. He informs her that he is going to give her a chance and says that the next big story that breaks is hers! . . . . and 2. Hannah’s best friend, her roomie from college, and also a coworker (she writes the Lifestyle Pages), Ashley Wilson, asks Hannah to hang out that night. Hannah declines. She feels a migraine coming on.

When Hannah gets home, she trips over her purebred Ragdoll cat Razzy. She apologizes, goes to the kitchen to see what she should eat, and feels such a wave of nausea and dizziness from her headache that she skips dinner and lays down for a little bit.

Things get a little weird …

She awakens hours later. She no longer has a headache, but she is barefoot and in the park near her place. She has no recollection of how she got there. She hears a child calling, “Mama! There you are.” As she does, Razzy walks towards her and sits at Hannah’s feet. Razzy looks at Hannah and speaks again, “Say somethin, Mama. You’re scaring me. Why are you outside?”

Hannah thinks it’s a dream. Razzy declares that it is not a dream. Hannah left the door open when she left and Razzy has tracked her to this spot. They get up to go home, Hannah still thinking that this is a dream when she trips and falls over something stretched across the sidewalk. It is cold and squishy. … the dead body of a man.

At first she thinks that her dream has taken a wild turn and that she needs to wake up. Then she realizes that she can feel the cold concrete beneath her feet. Checking her arms she sees that she has goosebumps all over them. She pinches herself to see if she is awake. Yes, she feels that. Then Razzy pitches in to help and bites Hannah on the top of her foot. Hanna realizes this is no dream. She calls 9-1-1on her cellphone – which she for some reason has with her.

Enter the handsome guy …

Hannah very quickly adjusts to the idea that she can understand Razzy while waiting for the police to arrive. She also realizes while she is on the phone with 9-1-1 that all everyone else hears are Razzy’s meows. The police arrives. Detective Ben Walsh interviews her. When he discovers that Hannah is a reporter he scowls. He has a bad view of reporters.

When Hannah first, doesn’t actually become a suspect in the killing of the man and second, doesn’t break her word and give away too much in her newspaper coverage of the dead body, Ben relaxes a little and begins to look at Hannah as a woman who happens to be a reporter. They begin to have a tenuous relationship as two who are working towards the same end – solving a crime. Why is Hannah trying to solve the mystery? It’s follow-up work for the newspaper.

In the meantime, Hanna shares her newfound ability to understand Razzy with Ashley. Ashley thinks Hannah should go visit a place called Mystic Treasures and talk with a woman named Anastasia Aspen. She has a “connection” and might be able to help Hannah sort out why Hannah has developed this gift of understanding her cat.

You have been given a rare gift. … the spirits have spoken, and they have chosen you. You have many tasks to complete. … All will be revealed in time. … you are in a unique position to right wrongs, to find the truth and shed light where darkness reigns.

Anastasia Aspen Chapter 4

What Hannah figures out…

Hannah realizes a number of things … first, that she might be in danger, that she can speak to and understand her cat Razzy. Razzy tells her that she wants to eat at the table, as it is more respectable than eating on the floor. She also tells Hannah that she wants her littler box moved so she can have more privacy. Hannah also learns that Razzy has an excellent sense of smell.

Razzy tells Hannah that she spends her morning meditating, then reading, then napping. Hannah is surprised to discover that Razzy is probably better read than Hannah herself. Razzy says she has read so many things – using Hannah’s iPad. – AND – she chooses free books and would like to have more offers.

Upon further research, Hannah finds that people with Celtic blood have been known to be cat talkers. Hannah has some Celtic blood in her.

The Body in the Park …

The dead man’s name is/was Mark Brown: He was single; but he was a player; He had no arrests, and a clean credit history, was active on social media, and played on a softball team sponsored by a bar.

The dead man had worked at a bank as a commercial loan officer. He had been there for 5 years, was moving up quickly, and had brought lots of new business to the bank. Mark had even brought people from California to this Colorado bank. Oddly, he was making commission on his works. Hannah learned that loan officers at his bank did not earn commission. Normally, they made bonuses as they reached certain benchmarks, they didn’t get paid bonuses. Mark, on the other hand, was making a LOT in his bonuses. He had recently bought diamond earrings for the girl he was dating.

Mark was the office jester – he was always laughing. Clients loved him. Perhaps to his detriment, however, he was known to flirt with the wives of the management people.

The cop …

Ben Walsh is the detective assigned to the crime: He is a new cop to the force, having hailed from California. He is a by-the-book kind of cop.

Hannah becomes intrigued by him: He smells of sandalwood. He has green eyes which fascinate Hannah. He also has a dimple she can’t seem to get past. He is the owner of a Maine Coon cat named Gus.

Plenty of suspects . . .

  • Gerald Harms: The Bank Manager
  • Rita Matthews: Bank teller
  • Georgia North: Bank lender
  • Wesley Laughlin: Bank Lender
  • Tim Waters: Long time friend and racket ball partner
  • Lanie Edwards: Former bank teller
  • Jordan Peters: Ex girlfriend and internet influencer

As I walked to the driver’s side of my Blazer, I felt something crunch beneath my feet. I peered through the dark, trying to see what I was walking on . . . the driver’s side window was broken. son of a biscuit!a note! . . . If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave this story alone!”

Part of Hanna’s narration at the end of chapter 8

Things get a little more weird . . .

Hannah meets a few times with Detective Ben Walsh. And yeah, they start to share personal information and begin to date a little bit. Ben is a great cook. He invites Hannah to dinner at his house where she meets Ben’s Maine Coon, Gus. She discovers that she can understand Gus too! She realizes that she can understand all cats now!! Ben doesn’t know and a few awkward moments happen, especially after Gus asks Hannah to tell Ben that Gus hates the food Ben is feeding him.

A kidnapping happens …

Hannah is kidnapped. Razzy sees it happen and she manages to send Ben a text and get him to realize where Hannah is by tapping the “phone-find-me” app. Ben rescues Hannah.

The murderer is apprehended . . .

Not telling you who it is!!

Hannah tells Ben about her ability to understand cats . . .

Ben is freaked out by what Hannah reveals.

I’m sorry, Ben, I’m not trying to freak you out. But I needed to tell you the truth.

And this is the truth? I’m sorry, Hannah. I really like you, but I think you need help. This is insane.”

Conversation between Hannah & Ben just before Ben walks out the door. Chapter 17

Ben apologizes . . .

Hannah, … I wanted to apologize, … this isn’t the place to do it, though. Would you like to have dinner tonight? . . .

I don’t know. Not tonight, though. Maybe some other time. …

Think about it, that’s all I’m asking. …”

Part of the conversation between Hannah and Ben at the post-catching-the-murderer press conference Chapter 18

More to come . . .

Tom (remember he’s Hannah’s editor) is thrilled with her work and all her pieces she did regarding the murder and help solving the case.

Hannah goes back to visit Anastasia. Anastasia tells Hannah she is glad that Hannah was successful in her first mission. Anastasia also tells her that Hannah will have another task assigned to her. She gives her a beautiful fire opal pendant and tells her to research its properties/abilities.

. . . and that ends a cute story!

I did a quick inquiry on google about Celtics and talking to cats. I discovered where a couple of cat superstitions came from, but I didn’t find the things that Hannah did … again, it was a less-than-20-minute search.

I also didn’t know that a Ragdoll Cat was a real thing. It is. (I knew about Maine Coon cats.)

The characters were absolutely fun.

There are more stories in the Razzy Cat Mystery series. (I read them all so far! I couldn’t help myself, they were so cheap on Bookbub and as I was wrapped up to know what would happen (or not) with a number of the story lines, I just kept up the reading marathon. (I am like that with chocolate!)

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Shows

Sherlock Season 4 Does Not Measure Up

Spoiler-Free Show Review:

Sherlock Season 4

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

Having enjoyed the first three seasons of Sherlock, I expected the last season to impress, but I ended up being disappointed. It was actually still somewhat enjoyable, but nowhere as phenomenal as the earlier seasons.

Warning! Even though there are no spoilers for Season 4 in this article, there are minor spoilers from previous seasons.

Background

Sherlock Season 4 aired in 2017 and was produced by BBC and Hartswood films. It is based off of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, but instead of being placed in Victorian England, the show is set in modern-day London.

The show stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs, Mark Gatiss, Louise Brealey, Andrew Scott, and Amanda Abbington.

In addition to being nominated for various awards, Sherlock won in three categories in the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Pros

  • Phenomenal acting
  • Immersive setting highly relevant to a modern-day audience
  • Benefit of the familiar character of Sherlock with a new spin
  • Strong character development
  • A fascinating villain at the end of the season
  • Intelligent, occasionally comical, script
  • Catchy theme song and music

Cons

  • A lackluster first villain of the season
  • Sherlock’s ability to predict the future stretches believability
  • Unnecessarily confusing, especially in the last episode
  • Yet more predictable in the first episode

Observations

  • You could probably stop watching at Season 3 if you wanted a better ending for the series

Review

Acting

The acting, especially by Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, was incredible. They each played their parts well.

All of the fantastic and obnoxious qualities of Sherlock were brought out and emphasized. The way that the actors for Sherlock, Watson and Mary interact shows great chemistry and skill.

Setting

Sherlock Holmes - Wikiwand
Sherlock and Watson’s flat

The setting in Season 4 is the same as Seasons 1-3, unsurprisingly: modern-day London. The presence of modern conveniences such as security cameras and phones remains a way for this new Sherlock to test his intellect. John Watson records their adventures through a blog, another modern touch. This transition from the Victorian London of the books to modern-day London is seamless.

Characters

Sherlock is a highly intelligent man who lacks empathy. He is nevertheless shown on several occasions to have at least some degree of care depending on who the person is. He is always blunt, but occasionally shows remorse for his words when they have caused damage.

Watson is of higher-than-average intelligence, but he cannot compete with Sherlock. Watson, however, has a deep sense of empathy and values human life while wanting to negate human suffering. He has a high tolerance for Sherlock, but even he loses his temper sometimes at Sherlock’s careless comments ill-timed deductions, and drug habit.

This season introduces more tension between Watson and Sherlock when Sherlock makes a critical error.

The first villain is creepy at least, but he lacks the style and creativeness of villains such as Moriarty. The second villain is fascinating and more intelligent than Sherlock and Mycroft. She once cut open her skin because she wanted to see how her muscles worked. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a picture of either of them without spoiling the series.

Script

The script of Season 4 is actually pretty good. There are several quotable moments. For example, an unexpected reflection on suicide by Sherlock.

“Taking your own life. Interesting expression– taking it from who? Once it’s over, it’s not you who’ll miss it. Your own death is something that happens to everybody else. Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it.”

There is also a decent amount of humor in the fourth season.

Watson: “I need a second opinion.”

Sherlock: “Oh, please, John. Since when have you ever managed TWO opinions. You’d fall over.”

There is even some genuine sincerity on the part of Sherlock:

Mycroft: “Dr. Watson? Could you please leave?”

Sherlock: “John stays.”

Mycroft: “This is about family.”

Sherlock: “THAT’S why he stays!”

Music

The theme music is catchy as always, and the music throughout the episodes is fitting and develops the mood.

Believability

Sherlock’s skills were always unbelievably amazing, but now he adds telling the future to his repertoire of skills. He predicts the exact location and time of events without a strong explanation as to how he managed to do so. Making Sherlock near-omniscient was not a good choice.

Predictability

The level of predictability for the first episode is higher than the rest of the episodes. Sherlock’s mistake is unsurprising, as well as the results.

Confusion

All the confusion in the series stems from one villain. Somehow the creators made her whole storyline extremely convoluted. I found myself wondering, what the heck just happened? The villain was impressive, but the events surrounding her created too much confusion.

Conclusion

Even though I found this season somewhat enjoyable, I think that you may be better off stopping at Season 3. That’s what my siblings ended up doing and I don’t blame them.

I recommend this season for audiences ages 13+.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.

Links

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