One of Us is Lying (CBR10 #10)

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Five students walk into detention, they have little in common, other than that they were all caught with phones in class, and all five claim that they were framed and that the phones weren’t theirs. But only four walk out of that detention alive. Number five is dead and the other four all have motive and opportunity. Who is guilty? What really happened? That is the story which unfolds in One of Us is Lying.

However, it isn’t the only story that Karen McManus is telling. The book is told from the four perspectives of the suspects and the plot naturally expands from dealing exclusively with the murder to each character’s personal lives.  Here, instead of providing differing perspectives of the same scene, as many contemporary whodunits do the story lines simply separate as each character deals with the notoriety as well as the pressures after their deepest secrets are revealed.

We begin with each character in their stereotype: a princess, a jock, a brain, a criminal, and the self-described omniscient narrator.  But they don’t stay there, McManus builds these stereotypes out and deals with the pressure to succeed, having to survive on your own too young, coming to terms with your sexuality, dealing with unhealthy relationships, notoriety, mental illness, and addiction all get dealt with on the page, which makes it for an even more believable jaunt into a high school setting. It had its faults, but as a debut I can already see what McManus’s potential looks like and I’m cautiously excited in that regard.

I was able to piece together what really happened without too much difficulty, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact I read this book in big gulps, it reads fast. I found myself absorbed in the goings on, interested in the various perspectives, and waiting (impatiently) for the next shoe to drop. The way that this book is structured it could translate to visual media quite easily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it on the big screen or small screens via a streaming service limited series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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The Beautiful Mystery (CBR9 #52 – CANNONBALL!)

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It turns out that this year’s Cannonball book is an Inspector Gamache book, and that seems oddly fitting.

I have chosen to spread out the Inspector Armand Gamache books instead of mainlining them. I read them in the seasons they are set, and it always proves to be something to look forward to. Following the disappointment of In Praise of Hatred I needed a comfort read, and Gamache is that for me. Luckily enough, autumn in northern Quebec is now, so we were all set.

Louise Penny stretches as an author in each book, and is often trying something new. In the eighth book in the series Penny gives us our first true locked room mystery. A monk is murdered in a cloistered monastery, and one of the brothers is guilty. It is up to Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir to travel to the remote Quebec wilderness to be some of the first outsiders ever admitted to St. Gilbert entre les loups to solve the case. The mystery of the murder is relatively straightforward, the biggest obstacle being to decipher what the murder weapon was and who had opportunity. Up until the final denouement, I was vacillating between two possibilities.

One would think I have learned my lesson with Gamache books: be careful what you ask for in the world of Three Pines. After A Rule Against Murder I was impatient to return to Three Pines, and The Brutal Telling put me through the ringer as the small town and all the characters I care about were raked over the coals. At the end of book seven, A Trick of the Light, I said that I was “exceptionally excited to spend more time with these two characters based on where we left them emotionally”. Well, I got my wish as Beauvoir and Gamache work this case solo, away from everyone else, making the book almost exclusively focused on their interactions and relationship. Woo boy, did it nearly break me.

Beauvoir has returned from rehab and has begun quietly dating the love of his life, Annie Gamache. Series readers (or at least ME) have been tracking this pairing since the beginning of the series, and the shootout at the Factory in Bury Your Dead serves to rattle each character’s status quo. We are allowed even further into Beauvoir’s mind in A Trick of the Light and the depth of his emotions regarding Annie. Now, we also know for sure how Annie feels, and we are treated to some domestic bliss at the beginning of the book as we see these two in the early months of a blooming relationship. We will not see it again in this book.

While investigating Beauvoir and Gamache are cut off from the rest of the world. But that does not mean their past doesn’t follow them there, in the form of memories (Beauvoir still struggles greatly with feelings of inadequacy and memories of the night he almost died) and the physical being of the superintendent. The Arnot case, and its fallout, are not as over as we may have hoped, and Gamache is under scrutiny once again. In a turn that rendered me nearly speechless, Beauvoir is turned against him. I of course looked ahead, book nine; How the Light Gets In takes place before Christmas. I will have a few months to wait to find out what the devastation is repaired for I must believe that it will be.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

A Rule Against Murder (CBR8 #45)

This is the fourth Inspector Gamache book, set in the week leading up to Canada Day (July 1), and the Gamaches’ wedding anniversary. I’m glad I remembered when this one was set, because visiting with Gamache always tends to improve the spirits, and its ben HOT here and driving around in the car listening to Ralph Cosham while the AC did its job was a wonderful way to break up the day.

Unfortunately, I felt like this was the weakest thus far of the Inspector Gamache books. Let’s go Pro/Con style as to why I landed on 3 stars for this book.

Pros:

  1. It continues to be refreshing to read about a detective who is also a family man and a good person. So many detective stories feature scarred men (or occasionally women). But not here. Inspector Gamache is a lovely man who is celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife whom he still loves deeply. The other characters are intricately drawn, even if they don’t always land.
  2. How. When an author writes a seemingly impossible murder they have to make sure they have a plausible and interesting explanation. Penny nails it.
  3. Dialogues and conversations. Penny has an ear for how people speak to each other and inner monologue (even if some of her characters are incredibly well spoken).
  4. Historical Details. Penny highlights the tensions between Francophone and Anglophone Canadians focusing on the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s when English-speaking residents of Montreal felt alienated and many left the province which had become officially French-speaking. Penny also highlights the class divisions that the two languages demarcated at the time, and the lingering classism. We learn about Gamache’s personal history and his father’s involvement in protests to World War II. But perhaps the favorite for me was Gamache’s lessons on Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais”.

Cons:

  1. Setting. We weren’t actually at Three Pines, where I want to be when I pick up an Inspector Gamache book, because the cast of characters there are so enjoyable. At times during the bookI wished that I was with Reine-Marie at the practices for Clogging Competition instead of being at the Manoir Bellechasse with the irredeemably awful Finney/Morrow clan. The interactions between Beauvoir and the Chef, or Elliot and the Maître d’Hotel left me cold and confused, and made me miss Gabri and all the rest even more.
  2. Plot. It’s basically a locked room mystery, which isn’t always my favorite, and is harmed by the following two points.
  3. Pace. What bothered me is that the killer is among them and yet no one is in a hurry to catch the killer. There is no sense of urgency, until the very end. Like the other books in the series, about half of the book has absolutely nothing to do with the murder. In the previous books the time away from the murder filled out the world surrounding Three Pines, the Sûreté du Quebec, or the Arnot case. This time… not really.
  4. Reason for Murder. While the how worked for me, the why was a big mystery. I was baffled by the motive for the murder. The murderer’s reason did not convince me: was it a crime of passion? But the incident that triggered the murder was a long time ago and the victim didn’t have anything to do with it. Was it then a crime of opportunity? Or premeditated, because the manner of death took planning? There is no satisfying answer to these questions.

With all of that, I’m still happy with the series and will be picking up the fifth book in the series, The Brutal Telling in the autumn.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Red House (CBR6 #41)

The best things I can say about The Red House by A.A. Milne are that it is a tongue in cheek locked room mystery with an affable amateur sleuth hero and an amusing sidekick. This book was much more of a why-and-howdunnit than a whodunnit (which was a draw back for me), the charm of the work is more in the wit and friendship of the two main characters and their clever allusions to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

The Sherlock and Watson stand-ins are Antony Gillingham and Bill Beverley. Antony is arriving at the titular Red House to visit his friend Bill, who is himself a guest of the owner Mark Ablett. What Antony doesn’t know is that he has stumbled upon a little country-house murder mystery. Mark’s ne’er-do-well brother is found dead in a locked office, with Mark also missing, and Antony decides to pick up the craft of sleuthing.

This novel is set just after World War I, and yet the war is never mentioned, which speaks greatly of its tone. Antony is described as the sort who never settles into any one profession for long, where Milne could have simply had him be a returning soldier to explain his lack of career. This is instead a little bit of escapist fantasy, Milne’s try at a genre that was immensely popular in the interwar period, providing an intellectual puzzle to distract the reader from the fact that their world was completely turned upside down.

While the narrative was entertaining enough, Milne did commit a few sins in my opinion. First, the murderer’s confession at the end of the book in the form of a letter left for Antony is a cop out of the first order. The second was in eliminating most of the possible suspects (including all the women, so that there wouldn’t be any love interests) by sending them away early in the story unnecessarily. This made for too few characters and possible villains to keep my attention over several chapters at a time. I picked up and put down this short novel (only 156 pages in my edition) at least a dozen times.

Had it not been for the way in which the mystery is resolved, I would have been tempted to give this ½ a star less. Sure, the culprit might be easy to discover but the how’s and why’s of the last 50 pages were much more pleasurable for me to read than the 100 pages which began the mystery. For those 100 pages I really had to push to finish. The characters were often flat, the pacing was slow and way too much of the book, in my opinion, consisted of lengthy conversations which droned on about the various theories of the crime as well as narrator asides highlighting that this was in fact, a book.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.