OK

I'm back!! I have been absent from these diaries for too long and it has really bothered me. Where else can I tell stories about stories?

Thank you, arizonablue for this diary, and quarkstomper for this one and my partner in crime and co-editor michelewln for carrying half the burden of this series.

I did not expect to be absent for so long, however, and that means tonight you get three, three, three books for the price of one. And they have absolutely nothing to tie them together. Not era, hero, location or genre. Isn't that great?


The first is The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen's Emma, by Victoria Grossack, who happens to be a fellow Kossack under a different name.

P.D. James tried her hand at a Jane Austin story to a rather sorry end, in my opinion. And now Val McDermid, one of my favorite writers is planning a contemporary version of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

"But there are a lot of aspects of Northanger Abbey that you can have fun with. It’s not going to be a crime novel."

With a career of thriller plots behind her, Val is very aware of one flaw in the original.

"I think because Austen wasn’t familiar with writing a suspense plot it gets to the resolve too early, so I’ll have to work on that as well!"

In the author's note at the end of The Highbury Murders, Victoria Grossack writes:
Jane Austen’s Emma has been famously described as a detective novel without a body.  
So she sets about to reveal just where the body in Emma was and how it got dead. This is a skillful, flowing tale told as perhaps Jane Austen would have told it had she lived and been so inclined. From the first words, Austen's influence is clear:
The death of Mrs. Bates, a very old lady whose hearing had long since gone and who had spent her last few months either in her bedroom or sitting in her chair in the parlor, would have gone unremarked in London, where people spent their time discussing fashion, nobility, and the latest offering at the theatre. In Bath her decease might have been mentioned as a piece of dull news, before the residents and visitors resumed discussing who had been seen at the Pump Room during the day or who was giving a whist party that night. In Highbury, however, Mrs. Bates’s passing was an event which was talked over in every house, both great and small. They wondered about her last hours, hoped that their own ends would be so peaceful, and discussed what they had heard about the funeral arrangements. To the romantic, a death may not hold the same fascination as the hopes for a wedding, but just as young ones begin, old lives must end.
And I loved some of the chapter titles, like: "Excursions of a Lively Mind," or "Sketches From the Past." The same examination and illumination of manners and social pretense that Austen excelled at are present in The Highbury Murders. Plus, there is a mystery. Yes, a real live mystery.

Grossack provides just enough background references to the Austen novel to make a reader comfortable within the plot, but none of it in the heavy-handed manner that was so prevalent in the James' work, Death Comes to Pemberley.

If you are interested in a light-hearted cozy mystery, and a visit with old friends, you will probably enjoy this book.

Victoria Grossack, with her writing partner, Alice Underwood, has also written A Tapestry of Bronze, five books (so far) set in the Greek Bronze age. Children of Tantalus, The Road to Thebes and Arrow of Artemis make up the trilogy of Niobe, the queen who offended the gods. There is an interview of the two authors available online, "Ancient Mysteries Apollo on Trial Investigating Mass Murder in Greece." In order to avoid any spoilers, stop at the 20 minute mark.

Children of Tantalus is on my TBR list and may still show up in one of these diaries. It is about a murder, after all, a mass murder at that.

Two more below the fold.

I started Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterson, with great enthusiasm, both for its setting in the Tucson foothills of the Catalina Mountains and the age of the protagonist.

A fragile appearing "hot granny," at 59, the white-haired former FBI agent presents an attractive target for a hired killer who attempts to lure her into his van for a little casual rape and murder. He doesn't realize that the walking stick she carries is for more than walking and contains a bladed end, which might normally be used to kill a different kind of reptilian pest. Nor does he realize that a deserted road over a wash is not such a safe place for him to grab granny.

And while killing a rapist/murderer could easily be considered self defense, Brigid Quinn, the hot granny, doesn't report the crime and instead alters the scene to make the death look accidental. Why? Because her new husband, a former priest turned philosophy professor does not know of her violent past and she has no desire to face what she feels would be his certain rejection if confronted with that knowledge.

Meanwhile, using her contacts in the local law enforcement community she gets invited to a crime scene where an abandoned car in the desert contains two bodies. It is here that the author's background as an editor of medical textbooks for forensic examiners comes into play and we learn probably more than we want to know about mummification of human bodies. But the explanations are given in a straight forward manner that provides plot time lines without a lot of excessive gore.

She suspects a possible link to the infamous Route 66 killer that she unsuccessfully chased during her career, and to whom she lost a young agent. She works the case from the outside with FBI Special Agent Laura Coleman who also thinks that the suspect they have in custody, a truck driver, is not the serial killer although her boss is ready to preen in front of the cameras and announce Mission Accomplished.

Becky Masterson's debut novel gets a lot of things right. The setting is spot on, and anyone who has ever lived in the desert knows this:

Zach retrieved a small canvas bag from the carousel and we walked from the terminal to the parking lot, where I got him situated in the car, handed him the bottle of water you always give to new arrivals in the desert, made him drink some,
And there are people who collect rocks in the washes to put in their yards though I have personally never understood the appeal. There are already plenty of rocks in my yard.

The marriage is well written if you can overlook the fact that it is based on a lie. I had a serious problem with that as it didn't ring true for a 59 year old woman to expect to build a life with someone with whom she can't be herself. Watching the relationship dance is compelling, almost as much as the murder mystery itself.

The resolution to the mystery was a surprise, even though the clues were there all along. And should this become a series, I will gladly read more. It only to learn if Brigid starts acting just a little more gown-up.

And finally, I finally got around to reading Dead Simple, Peter James' first novel in his series set in the Brighton area of England and featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace whose wife disappeared eight years earlier.

The novel opens as four young men play a prank on the groom at his stag party only days before his wedding. In a juvenile escapade, and to pay him back for his past practical jokes, they bury him in a coffin with a breathing tube, a walkie talkie, a flashlight and a girlie magazine to keep him company while they continue their pub crawl.

Within moments of the faux burial, their car is hit and all four of the young men die, leaving the groom, Michael Harrison, stranded in his coffin not knowing what is going on. Nor does his fiancé, his mother or his sister.

On his way to visit a lady he met online, Roy Grace is stuck in the massive traffic jam that resulted from the accident that left the groom's location unknown. He has been promoted at a very early age to Detective Superintendent, but still feels more comfortable working with his old crew and slowly gets drawn into this missing person case.

There are flashes of dry wit, as shown in this exchange between Grace and his old partner Branson who tries to eat a healthy diet:

Branson ate his salad, and left the rest of his fish untouched, while Grace tucked into his steak and kidney pudding with relish. 'I read a while ago,' he told Branson, 'that the French drink more red wine than the English but live longer. The Japanese eat more fish than the English but drink less wine and live longer. The Germans eat more red meat than the English, and drink more beer and they live longer too. You know the moral of this story?'
'No'
'It's not what you eat or drink - it's speaking English that kills you.'
Feeling the trail going cold, Grace is not above seeking help from a psychic, the same one that he consulted when his wife disappeared eight years before. Use of psychics are generally frowned upon by the police department management and sets up a nice conflict between Grace and his boss.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule




DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
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MON 11:30 AM Political Book Club Susan from 29
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TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
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Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
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FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
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SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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