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The past two weeks have been very trying.  The roof of the family room started leaking after 20 hours of rain.  One of the toilets continued to run long after it should have shut off.  And worse, we ran out of cleaning fluid for the self-flushing litter box that took six weeks to be finally accepted by all four cats.  Naturally that meant bringing in the clumping clay litter box from the patio while waiting delivery of the cleaning fluid so I could begin the six weeks training period all over again.  Which only seems a small thing if you have never had to clean litter boxes for four cats.  Or tried to change their litter box routine.

And in addition to my miserable cold, my husband has been laid up in bed with a severe pulled muscle in his back. (Which is actually a good thing when the alternative, and our concern, was metastatic prostate cancer.)   Even still, it has been a physically and emotionally exhausting stretch of time, with one problem after another demanding an immediate solution.

But instead of reaching for chocolate, which every molecule in my body was screaming for, I picked up a couple of books on cruising.  And murder.

I love to cruise.  I especially love transocean cruises that provide days on end of nothing but sea and sky.  We once took a Transpacific cruise to Hawaii with three other couples over Halloween.  We all dressed as cast members from Gilligan's Island and received an ovation as we entered the dining room while playing Iz's recording of the theme music from the show.

One year we left New Jersey, headed for Dover into a spring storm with winds up to 60 knots.  The Captain asked that ladies not wear heels to that night's formal dinner.  Some of my friends ignored the edict, wearing stilettos with their long gowns.  My husband and I settled for dinner in the casual venue instead.  

But I loved the rocking of the ship.  It was the Celebrity Constellation, 91,000 tons, 965 ft long, 105 ft wide and a draught of 26ft.  With a max occupancy of 2034, she was only carrying about 1400 people that week, including our group of about 16.  

Life onboard a cruise ship at sea develops its own rhythm; days filled with as many or as few activities as desired.  Enrichment classes and napkin folding (although I always seemed to miss that one).  Afternoon wine tasting and cabin crawling arranged by members of our own party.  Dressing for dinner and dancing, or a show in the evening.  And then it starts all over again the next day.

The living room of our cabin had floor to ceiling windows that curved out from the side of the ship in a graceful semi-circle. We would start each day with perhaps our only healthy meal, a breakfast of fruit and cereal, watching the ocean endlessly pass by under a limitless blue sky. Known as the Celebrity Suite, it had a bedroom that allowed no daylight inside which was perfect for the occasional afternoon nap.  For a week or two we would live well beyond our means, travelling the world without a map.

I need to cruise again.  It has been over a year since we took a quick Caribbean cruise, but almost five since we have crossed an ocean.  I miss the sea.

Mediterranean Grave, by William Doonan, BookYear Mysteries (USA), 01/03/11, 288 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0983135401

It was while looking at what was new on Stop You're Killing Me, that I came across this intriguing description of a character by author William Doonan,

Henry Grave, an 80-something investigator for the Association of Cruising Vessel Operators:   
Grave Passage (2009)
Mediterranean Grave (2011)
Since I am married to a man who is 84, and am desperate for a cruise, it took me all of about two seconds to decide to download one of these cozy mysteries. (Given the choice between downloading a copy of the second book of the series for $2.99 and paying $22.95 for a paperback copy of the first, I didn't dither.)

Henry Grave is the 84 year old senior investigator for the Association of Cruising Vessel Operators who has been sent to investigate a murder onboard the Vesper, an older cruising yacht that is in the middle of a themed Mediterranean cruise.  A WWII vet and survivor of a POW camp, Henry lives at Rolling Pines, "a community of active seniors" in Pennsylvania and in his spare time manages a semi-professional roller derby team, "currently in second to last place."  He falls deeply in love on every cruise but is willing to flirt with any female who comes within range.  He also has a fondness for vodka tonics, frequent naps, and food.

Having clearly seen better days, the Vesper, equipped to accomodate 188 passengers, is only carrying 90 passengers, most of whom are looking for "spiritual renewal." The ship had as its featured guest, a "world famous guru and best-selling author. . . His latest is ‘Healing the Hurting Human Heart.’” (I only mention this for Limelite since I could not remember the name of this imaginary book within a book for last Tuesday's Best Books Never Written diary.)

The ship was carrying a valuable Minoan cup known as the Pasiphae Vessel from its place of discovery in Alexandria to Athens for restoration.  An Egyptian federal agent was assigned to accompany it on its journey.  But the agent is killed and the cup has disappeared.  Henry Grave's job is to find the cup and the murderer.

During the course of the search and the cruise, wonderfully strange characters are introduced and examined by this charming, seemingly befuddled gentleman with his fondness for the ladies and vodka tonics.  It was good fun, and included some laugh out loud moments that surprised me.  

Some of the details of shipboard life make it obvious that the author, William Doonan, has spent time on cruise ships.  According to his own website, he

is a writer and anthropology professor in Sacramento, CA.  He has spent years working as an archaeologist, and years lecturing on cruise ships, traveling the world and speaking on issues as diverse as the Trojan War, piracy in the Adriatic, and the peopling of the Americas. And he loves a good mystery!

It was a perfect antidote for my distressing condition although I did have a few issues with Doonan's depiction of men of a certain age, especially his claim that they tend to nod off unexpectedly.  My husband had never done so although he does enjoy flirting with young women, but only in the nicest possible way.  

One afternoon as my husband was resting on the examining table in his doctor's office while we were waiting for test results to come back, I started reading this book to him.  I thought it would take his mind off of his pain and help to pass the time.  Even though in pain, he chuckled at the appropriate places.  However, a few pages into the third chapter I happened to glance up at him, and sure enough, he had fallen asleep.  So perhaps Doonan does know 84 year old men better than I do.

Murder on the Leviathan, by Boris Akunin, trans Andrew Bromfield, Random House (USA), 04/27/04, 240 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1400060511

I knew when I read The Winter Queen that Boris Akunin was an author of rare talent.  I raved about his ability to transport the reader to the Russia of the Czars in a wonderfully florid style. Included in that diary was Akunin's explanation of why he was writing 16 books in the Erast Fandorin series:

"One is that I counted 16 subgenres of crime novel. And each of my Fandorin books represents a different subgenre. Another is that I counted 16 types of human character[s] in the world. And each of those books is addressing one of those [psychological] types."
The Winter Queen was the International Conspiracy.  The second book in the series, but for some reason the third published in the US, was the Turkish Gambit, a Spy novel.  The third book was Murder on the Leviathan, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery.

And it was set on a cruise ship!  How perfect for my landlocked state!  And after two weeks of waiting on my husband hand and foot, murder was sounding better by the hour.  (But only to take my mind off of my labor, of course.)

The 1878 Paris murder of English Lord Littleby was particularly heinous, resulting in not only his death, but also the strange deaths of seven members of his household staff, and two children related to them.  There was no sign of violence on the bodies of the staff members, and most of them were found sitting around a table in the kitchen, but Lord Littleby had been beaten around the head with a blunt instrument.

Although he possessed a large collection of valuable antiquities, only a single statue of Shiva was stolen, along with a silk scarf perhaps used to conceal it.  But the statue was fished out of the Seine almost immediately, leaving Gustave Gauche, the Investigator for Especially Important Cases with few clues to follow.

Gauche is well named, and reminded me of Agatha Christie's description of her own character, Hercule Poirot as a "bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep."  Having found a whale shaped golden pin in Littleby's clenched fist, presumably ripped from the murderer's clothing, Gauche determined that is was used to identify the first class passengers and officers of the Leviathan's maiden voyage from Southampton to Bombay.  Detecting the single passenger or senior officer lacking this golden bauble seemed an easy task to Gauche and so he boarded the ship at Southampton, sure he would have his criminal by the the time the ship reached LeHarve.

And so we begin our cruise on the largest ship of the day, offering first class accommodations so lavish and comfort so great that passengers would have no need to bring their own valets and/or maids.  Nor would they be expected to take meals in a large dining hall, but in small salons of about ten people.  It was in the Windsor salon that Gauche, with the assistance of the ship's Captain, was able to assemble his most likely suspects.  

They included the Englishman, Sir Reginald Midford-Stokes, an erratic baronet, scion of a wealthy family, travelling to some "god forsaken Oceania,"  Mme. Renate Kleber, a young, pregnant wife of a Swiss banker traveling to join her husband in Calcutta, M. Gintaro Aono, a Japanese nobleman who claimed to be an officer in the Imperial Army of Japan, a Mlle. Clarissa Stamp, a "typical Englishwoman, no longer young, with dull colorless hair and rather sedate manners," a specialist in Indian archeology, Anthony F. Sweetchild and the ship's chief physician, the Italian M. Truffo and his English wife of two weeks.  Also at the table was the first officer of the Leviathan, M. Charles Renier.  

When the Leviathan reached Port Said, a Russian diplomat, with a shock of white hair and a slight stammer joined the party, eventually informing Gauche in response to his unsubtle questioning about the absence of his whale emblem, "I do not wear it because I do not wish to resemble a janitor with a name tag, not even a golden one."

Soon items turn up missing, and then passengers turn up dead.  It is clear that the murderer is among our party in the Windsor salon.  But who?  And how many will die before the murderer is uncovered?

The story is told in the alternating voices of the passengers, through their diaries, letters and private thoughts as each chapter is written from a different point of view.  None of them from the perspective of our intrepid Russian diplomat, Erast Fandorin; we only see him through the lenses of the other travelers.  But he is essential to the solution of the mystery.

Clearly written in the style of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle Murder on the Leviathan is a cozy mystery reminiscent of Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express. But it is ingeniously updated, as Akunin exposes the national and racial bigotry of that era and those writers and handily refutes it.  It is the kind of book I had to occasionally put down, just to marvel at how well he was handling this genre and how much he was improving it all while poking gentle fun at its conventions.

The characters are beautifully drawn, the plotting is perfect and although it seems to slow a little in the middle, the mystery is resolved just when one can hardly stand the suspense.  For we all know that there is another shoe to drop somewhere, we just aren't sure whose shoe it will be and how far it will fall.

Akunin does such a wonderful job of re-creating this style and actually enriching it that I wish he had chosen Jane Austen to emulate.  What a different book Death Comes to Pemberley would have been had he been the one to write it!  

If you enjoy an intelligently written, complex, cozy mystery, Murder on the Leviathan is one you should not miss.  Whether you consider it a parody of the genre or a simple cozy, it is a pleasurable read.

It is Netroots for the Troops fundraising time again, and a team has been set up for Readers & Book Lovers Group members.  Last year we were one of the top two groups to contribute to the effort and we are hoping to uphold that standard this year with a goal of $3000.  If you wish to contribute to the effort, please use this link.  

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 3:00 PM The Magic Theater ArkDem14
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
SUN 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29
MON 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUE 8:00 PM Readers & Book Lovers Newsletter Limelite
TUE 10:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
WED 8:00 PM Bookflurries: Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life aravir
FRI 10:00 PM (first of month) Monthly Bookposts AdmiralNaismith
SAT 11:00 AM (fourth of month) 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 Feb 27, 2012 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by lundi channel, DKOMA, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Meanwhile, the toilet has been fixed, the cats are (32+ / 0-)

    complaining but the litter box is flushing, we have had no further rain, my husband is a little better and I have booked a Transatlantic cruise on the Equinox for November!!

    Books reviewed in past diaries can be found here, and I still welcome any diarist who wishes to write about their favorite author, book, series or genre.  Or the ones you really can't stand.  Please let me know in the comments or via kosmail.

    "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

    by Susan Grigsby on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 03:43:58 PM PST

  •  I have never (8+ / 0-)

    been overnight on a ship (nor a train for that matter, planes, yes), and not sure whether I could stand being away from land that long?

    As far as cruise ship mysteries go, the one that springs to mind for me is Tapas on the Ramblas, featuring gay Canadian P. I. Russell Quant on a Mediterranean outing.

  •  Oh, Mediterranean Grave (7+ / 0-)

    is on my wish list.  The 84 year old investigator really appeals to me.  I was thinking that we need more mysteries written for senior readers - now that I'm a senior reader.  I'm thinking characters like Stephanie Plum's grandmother.  

    The closest I've come to a cruise is a couple of trips on the ferry in Alaska.  We met some very nice people but I still was bored out of my mind for the day-long trip.  

    I've finished some dandy mysteries this week.  I picked up Jar City, the book that was discussed last week.  I liked it better than Frozen Assets.  I also finished Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett.  I do love Sonchai, the Royal Thai Police detective, but I have to say the plot of this book was kind of weird.  I liked Bangkok 8 better.  And last but not least, I finished Unhallowed Ground by Mel Starr.  He's a Michigan author, a retired school teacher, and I love his 14th century British mystery series.

    •  Mediterranean Grave is a lot of fun, but (6+ / 0-)

      definitely a light weight read.  It was perfect for me after the immersion in Nordic Noir of the last few weeks.  True laugh out loud material.

      Mel Starr sounds interesting.  I love books set in the 14th century.  Have to check it out.

      "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

      by Susan Grigsby on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 06:21:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I would probably be, too (5+ / 0-)

      if I didn't have an iPod-like device to watch episodes of British dramas like Inspector Lewis.

    •  Ferries are completely (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hazey, Susan from 29, myrealname, Limelite

      different from cruise ships.

      Ferries are just during the day, or overnight - you really don't settle in and they are not geared for that.  Because they have a temporary, limited aspect, one has to think of them differently than a multi-night voyage.  Unless you are prepared mentally for this difference, one could be bored.  

      It also depends upon the time involved, the scenery, the people noise & vibe aboard the ferry.    

      We took a ferry overnight from northern UK to Denmark.  DFDS.  Wonderful experience.  These boats operate all over the world, but don't get as much publicity here in the states.  There were ships that went from Australia to NZ, which we saw.  There are also ferries in the Great Lakes, the NorthWest (Seattle & BC) and on the Med.  Just have to dig a little.

  •  The mystery I've tried to start reading (6+ / 0-)

    this week is Raylan by Elmore Leonard. He's done a lot better.

  •  The Lusitania Murders (8+ / 0-)

    Max Allan Collins has written a series of mysteries set against famous disasters, each with a real-life writer as its protagonist.  The only one I've actually read, though, is The Lusitania Murders.

    Snobbish art critic Willard Huntington Wright has been assigned by his editor to write a story about the British luxury liner, ostensibly a puff piece, but actually he is to investigate rumors that the Lusitania is carrying armaments.  In pursuing the story, (using the pseudonym S.S. Van Dine) he joins forces with an attractive Pinkerton agent with whom he carries a pleasant shipboard romance, when the two of them aren't investigating the murder of three German stowaways found on board the ship.  Collins blends historical personages and events with a fine mystery invovling a saboteur on board the Lusitania's last voyage.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 06:57:59 PM PST

  •  Of course I tried to pick out which is you (8+ / 0-)

    in the photo.  I have only had one "cruise" experience, crossing the Atlantic to Europe in the 60's on an inexpensive ship that was half filled with poor students, and the other half a group on a "Cruise of a Lifetime" (I bet they wanted their money back).  Who knew you were suppose to dress for dinner?  Not I, who only had a backpack, one decent shirt that I could pass off with a single tie I stuck in the pack, and a herringbone sweater that sort of looked like a jacket.  So, at one table you had people dressed to the nines, and at another you had a bunch of hippies, some who were less pleased when they were turned away from the dining room because they were sans shoes.

    I had so much danged fun on the crossing:  seven days to Genoa (of all places), where the majority of us headed to the youth hostel, leaving the ship to begin its "Lifetime" cruise with the remaining passengers.  Yes, there was a costume night, and everyone was bummed out because a young Native American won with a costume that was not a costume, but rather his native, ceremonial dress, which, I guess, he took with him wherever he traveled.  Second place went to Daisy Mae and Lil' Abner.  All of the students attended, agape, but eventually joined in the fun, and we began to make friends with the "Lifetime" group.  I suspect they missed us when we left the ship as the sun was rising over the hills of Genoa.

    The Akunin sounds great, Susan, and I agree with bookgirl that The False Inspector Dew is great fun, although, if I remember correctly, there were lots of loose knots in the plot, but the fun was in the mocking of the stereotypes so often found in cozies.

    Happy that your troubles have subsided, and that you have booked a cruise for November.  You will have to write your diary for that week while you are on the water, with lots of photos, including the costume contest.  (Is that still a tradition?)  Even on the QEII?  


    Just waitin' around for the new Amy Winehouse album

    by jarbyus on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 07:07:42 PM PST

    •  Standing, second from the left. Costumes were (6+ / 0-)

      optional and only because it was Halloween.  I don't think costume night is held on a regular basis any longer.  Even on the QEII which was sold off and has been replaced by the newer Queen Elizabeth or QE (as the only one in Cunard's fleet she carries no number after her name).  Today's cruising is more casual than the old days, most ships have even dropped formal nights opting instead for smart casual wear.  Shoes are still required for the dining room though, and Celebrity still has formal night once a week.

      Perhaps I should start reading more cruise mysteries now so that when we are on the ship I don't have to worry about material.

      "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

      by Susan Grigsby on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 07:24:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not exactly an overnight train, (6+ / 0-)

    but if you have the chance, take the EuroStar between London and Paris. Whooosh, and you're there.

    You will weep at the efficiency of really good train travel. And the departure lounge at St. Pancras is quite fancified.

    Republicans only want government small enough to fit in a woman's private parts. -- Caroline Heldman, Professor of Politics, Occidental College

    by Mnemosyne on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 09:24:53 PM PST

  •  Glad to see others here (5+ / 0-)

    enjoy being on the waters of the world.  Just love the rock of a boat.

    Growing up along coastal New England, boats of all sizes were sailed in, rowed, and served on as temporary crew & fog spotter from before I could walk.  Now landlocked, in the past 2 yrs we have gotten on some bigger boats. :-)

    After careful research, last May chose a porthole cabin on Celebrity's Constellation to test the idea of a 'cruise' across The Pond.  Trip had a purpose, as we ended up in Amsterdam, which was a great jumping off point for the Netherlands and western Germany (where Mr Pinhole had an ancestral village to check out).  Along the way stopped at & climbed Mt St Michel (big deal with a bum knee), and at Monet's Garden.  Think we also will return to Celebrity (the name is not appealing tho).  Like med size ships.  Would never go on Cunard, because of their smoking policy and they are gliding on their past, which is not reality today under Carnival.

    Loved the sea days, for the same reason you do, Susan, and we are thinking of a westward journey from Europe. (The every other day losing of an hour going east, IS a drag.)  Another book that has inspired a dream trip is the David McClough (sp) one on the building of the Panama Canal.  Would like to do some Baltic territory too.

    Anyone thinking of a cruise, should check out

    We just returned from a NZ & AUST cruise which was mostly fantastic, but exhausting. Hope to post pix at some point.  Still recovering from some medical issues and sleep. Saw so much, that at this point it is hard to wrap my mind around it all and put it in perspective.  

    Plus we are having problems with our cable computer connection, which won't be fixed for another 2 days.  VERY SLOW.  A mountain of mail, bills, etc. and gee, have to rustle up our own meals - spoiled!

    Glad to have the list of ship board mysteries!  

    •  Our Scandinavian cruise was our favorite for years (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The Constellation was the first ship in port that spring and we did a back to back cruise with the TA.  Loved it.  My husband preferred the Panama Canal cruise which I enjoyed, but didn't love like I did the one that included two days in St Petersburg, a stop in Gdansk and in Tallin.

      Cunard also segregates classes on its ships, with the top suite passengers getting not just their own dining room, but their own elevator.  I don't really like that.  The only thing we get aboard Celebrity is more room in the cabin.  Norwegian Cruise Line is also moving towards a segregated class system.  It disturbs my American soul to see that happen.

      It it hard coming home, isn't it? Now is the perfect time to pick up one of the books set on a cruise.  I recommend Mediterranean Grave for a more modern cruise ship setting and Murder on the Leviathan for a more classic experience.

      Welcome home!

      "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

      by Susan Grigsby on Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 10:41:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hope Your Hubby's Still Alive! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29

    Did you read aloud to him from Mediterranean Grave?  What a randy old goat is Henry Grave!  Think he'd be the ideal travel companion, if it weren't for the propensity of people to die violently in his company.

    I think I enjoyed your diary more than I could possible enjoy the mysteries, intriguing as they sound when you write about them.

    I've never been on a cruise ship.  And now, I'm wondering if I should -- all that murderous intent on the bounding waves!  It's like living next door to Angela Lansbury.  Not a good idea.

    My only overnight sail has been aboard the ferry between Athens and Heraklion.  While the dinner service is excellent, there's no time to get to know your fellow passengers who mostly want to sleep in their cabins, or sit up and smoke all night in the non-sleeping rooms.  On one such crossing, I chose to sleep on the deck, just so I could delude myself into thinking I'd had the experience of being a tramp on a "steamer."

    To my knowledge, nobody has been killed on any boat on which I was a passenger.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 10:33:23 AM PST

    •  Cruise ships are great places to discover niches (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that are designed to curl up and read a book in.  Throughout the ship, poolside, in the lounge or even in the library, there are wonderful spots that invite a good read.  One of the things that I like most about Celebrity Cruise Lines is that there are no constant announcements over the PA system.  I think there may be one in the morning from the cruise director, and one at noon from the Captain telling everyone where we are.  If you want to know when BINGO starts, you have to look at your daily program or the dedicated channel on your TV.

      And if there were a murder on board, you would probably not even know it until you reached shore.  There is a concerted effort to create a fantasy reality for cruise passengers, and unless there were gunshots it is unlikely that other passengers would have a clue that murder was afoot.  But there are a couple of websites dedicated to crime at sea that make interesting reading.

      "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

      by Susan Grigsby on Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 11:24:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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