Book Review: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden by Janet Todd @Jan_Todd

Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden
Janet Todd
Fentum Press, September 2021
ISBN 978-1-909572-270
Trade Paperback

Fran is a retired professor of English literature, living in a cottage in Norfolk, and considering what to do next. Will she write a memoir or travel? Fran is joined by the ever present ghost of Jane Austen, who feels she must comment on everything from Fran’s teaching methods, to gardening, family matters, and relationships. Fran’s friends—Annie, Rachel, Thomas, and Tamsin—decide to take a trip to Wales and Venice to visit places of importance to the poet Percey Bysshe Shelley. Of course, the ghost of Jane Austen is along for the ride.

I don’t know enough about the life of Shelley and English literature to understand all the witticisms that were in this book. Even with watching a lot of BBC America, I didn’t get the references to contemporary British culture. Readers with a lot of knowledge of poetry, literature, and life at the British universities would appreciate this book more than I did.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2021.

Book Review: Let These Bones Live Again by David Carlson

Let These Bones Live Again
A Christopher Worthy & Father Fortis Mystery #3
David Carlson
Coffeetown Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-393-8
Trade paperback

With a setting of Venice, Italy, the premise of the story seems almost possible. College student Allyson Worthy is interning with the Venice police department, the dream of living in the city fulfilled. She is no more than settled in when her father, a respected and famous homicide detective, turns up. He’s been hired to look into the death of a wealthy cancer victim suspected of committing suicide. Of course father and daughter meet up. Not such a good thing considering an uneasy history between them.

But then there’s Father Fortis, whom the Vatican has asked to look into the theft of the bones of saints. His job is complicated when he’s forced to bridge a gap of faith between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox church. Father Fortis and the Worthys are friends, and it isn’t long before they get together to help each other.

The Venetian police soon have Allyson working with her father, as more than one wealthy cancer victim has apparently committed suicide in unusual circumstances. And their bodies all have a puzzling wound, carefully stitched, that seems to have no bearing on their disease. Then there are the stolen relics. Father Fortis can’t think of any good reason for old bones, often of uncertain provenance, to be stolen.

While the answers to these questions were quite easy to see, the meat of the story comes with the relationship between these various characters, especially Allyson as she not only struggles with a romance that may not be as real as she hopes, but hostility toward her father. I didn’t find a lot of action or tension in the story, but was entranced by the setting and the people.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon

Ted and Gloria Feit have been sending me reviews to post here on Buried
Under Books for a long time and we’ve enjoyed every one of them. Ted
passed away suddenly on September 13, 2018 at the age of 87 and we’ll
miss his thoughts on a wide variety of crime fiction. I still have some of
his reviews to post, enough to keep us entertained for a good while.

Rest in peace, Ted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Waters of Eternal Youth
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #25
Donna Leon
Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press March 2016
ISBN 978-0-8021-2637-5
Trade Paperback

The Guido Brunetti mystery series always takes the reader on a guided tour of Venice, where he is a Commissario of police.  The plot of this novel is somewhat different from that of its predecessors. When he is forced to attend a dinner at his titled in-laws on behalf of a countess, he takes on a case that hardly could be called a case:  The countess asks him to look into an event that took place 15 years previously.

It seems the countess’ granddaughter was thrown (or fell) into a canal, rescued by a drunken man, but suffered brain damage, the result of oxygen deprivation to the brain when she was under water too long.  Consequently, the child, now a woman 30 years old, has the mental state of a seven-year old.  Without a clue, Brunetti tries to locate the rescuer, who is murdered just before they were to meet.  Now we have a murder to solve as well.

I have enjoyed every novel in the series I have read.  In each, Brunetti has painstakingly solved each mystery through careful and logical analysis.  In The Waters of Eternal Youth, however, the resolution takes place by an accident, ex parte  of  any police work.  Mere happenstance, and less satisfying, although the result provides the author the means to end the book with an interesting and gratifying twist.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

Book Reviews: The Irregular by H.B. Lyle and Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

The Irregular
A Different Class of Spy #1
H.B. Lyle
Quercus, November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4026-2
Hardcover

It’s not easy for an author to come up with an original idea for a novel, much less a plot involving Sherlock Holmes.  But that is just what H.B. Lyle has done, albeit the great detective here only playing a minor cameo role, offstage, as it was.  Instead, he has grasped an historical development, the forerunners of Britain’s MI5 and MI6 in 1909 and using the “best” of the Baker Street Irregulars,Wiggins, as a protagonist.  Not only Holmes, but no less a personage than Winston Churchill plays a minor role in the plot.

The story revolves around Vernon Kell, who apparently headed up the original efforts to establish a counter-intelligence operation in Great Britain, hindered by his inability to find good agents until his friend, Holmes, suggested Higgins.  A substantial portion of the novel recounts Higgins’ exploits and a good deal of background on how the Baker Street Irregulars came to be.  And, of course, we learn a great deal about the conspiracies pre-dating World War I and espionage efforts by Germany and others not only to obtain secrets but also to sow discontent and confusion in London.

The novel is exciting, interesting and fast-moving.  It is an historical mystery, the beginning of what is promised to be a new series, and a welcome one. The author captures the atmosphere of 1909 London with sharp observations and dialogue.  We look forward to its sequel with great anticipation.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Earthly Remains
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #26
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2647-4
Hardcover

Commissario Guido Brunetti, in the midst of interrogating a suspect, suddenly collapses (intentionally, to prevent a colleague from committing a foolish act) by faking a heart attack. He is taken to the hospital, where no evidence of an attack is found, but just high blood pressure.  While waiting for the results of tests, he concludes that he no longer enjoys his job, and after discussing it with his wife, and on the advice of the attending doctor, decides to go away from it all alone.

His wife sets him up with a villa owned by a relative on an island in the lagoon, where he intends to rest, row and read.  He rows with the caretaker, Davide Casati, whom he befriends.  Incidentally, Casati and Brunetti’s father won regatta years before.  All goes well until Casati is found drowned following a violent storm.

Brunetti then undertakes to investigate the circumstances of Casati’s death to determine whether it was an accident or suicide, despite his self-imposed sabbatical.  Along the way, the Commissario learns a lot about his friend, nature, and our failure to protect the environment, as well as the result of one’s actions during our lives.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Reviews: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon and Lineup by Liad Shoham

The Golden EggThe Golden Egg
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2242-1
Trade Paperback

It is no mean feat to sustain a mystery series at this high a level through 18 novels. Of course, that is just what Donna Leon has accomplished, and more (this is the 19th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery). Of course, The Golden Egg features that charming and erudite Venetian detective in a tale that begins with the death of a mentally challenged deaf mute who works in a tailor shop frequented by Brunetti’s wife, Paola. She goads Brunetti into looking into the death, which appears to be natural.

At the same time, Brunetti’s boss timidly asks him to look into whether or not the mayor’s son’s fiancée, part owner of a store, is evading taxes or paying bribes to tax officials. The mayor, of course, is running for reelection and could do without any embarrassing revelations. The Commissario solves this one quickly and smoothly, but spends the entire novel on the other investigation, which becomes more complicated with every interview, no part of which is an official inquiry.

The charm of Brunetti’s home life, his relationship with his wife, daughter and son are always plusses in the books that make up this series. Unlike most others, the central theme of this novel is not a serious issue, but a personal, subtle one. Written with the usual depth of knowledge about Venice, its allure and atmosphere, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

LineupLineup
Liad Shoham
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai
Harper, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-223744-6
Hardcover

This novel is the first to be published in the US by Liad Shoham, an Israeli attorney and the author of five best-selling novels in his native country, apparently considered “the Israeli John Grisham.” I was immediately intrigued by the setting, and by the protagonists, for the book presents wonderful character studies of three men: Amit Giladi, a would-be investigative journalist who’d been covering crime and education for the local Tel Aviv paper for 7-1/2 months; Police Inspector Eli Nachum; and Ziv Nevo, a man who in the last eighteen months had lost his job and his wife.

A brutal rape in a quiet Tel Aviv neighborhood leads to the arrest of Nevo by Inspector Eli Nachum and Giladi is sent by his editor, in the most urgent terms, to cover the story and get a scoop for the paper. There is no evidence, forensic or otherwise, and the girl couldn’t see the face of her attacker, but Nachum is led to Nevo when the victim’s father, who had been haunting the street where the daughter lived in the firm belief that the attacker would be back looking for another victim, sees him on the same street, acting suspiciously, a stalker, and becomes convinced that he is the one they are seeking; he soon convinces Nachum as well. The problem arises when that certainty leads to a fatally contaminated lineup: The father had followed and taken photos of Nevo after spotting him on the scene, and shown his daughter the photos, and Nachum knows this. Nevo, guilty of something totally unrelated to the rape, shows clear signs of having done something about which he is keeping silent, and does not divulge what he was doing on that street that night. With the best of intentions and determined to prevent another young woman from suffering the same fate, Nachum sees to it that the man is convicted of the crime, determined to “do whatever it took to put the rapist behind bars.”

The tale is well written (despite the fact that the first half felt as it needed some judicious editing). It is a compelling plot, and the characters are ones that this reader came to care about. I will be certain to watch for the next book from this author, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2014.

Book Reviews: Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey, and Beyond Confusion by Sheila Simonson

Drawing ConclusionsDrawing Conclusions
Donna Leon
Penguin/Grove, March 2012
ISBN: 978-01431-2064-3
Trade Paperback

Donna Leon has been writing the Guido Brunetti series for a very long time. Her talents as a thoughtful observer of relationships between humans, whether at a casual, professional, or personal level, have never been clearer. Fans of this author will find everything they expect in this mystery.

In her twentieth novel, in this series, Leon again examines age-old questions of morality, law, and some of the dilemmas posed by confrontations with people who do bad things from good intentions. As always, Commissario Brunetti strolls the streets and rides the canals of Venice, this most intriguing of European cities. As always the master manipulator of criminals and his own superiors and staff, applies a dab hand to probing and then solving the crime of murder—if that’s what it was.

When an elderly widow is found dead on her apartment floor, it appears she has died of heart failure. Indeed, there is considerable pressure on Brunetti to avoid trying to make a case of murder out of what mostly appears to be an accident. But until all the reports and all the evidence is in and carefully considered, Brunetti is unwilling to consign the death to a dusty file.

His persistence leads to all manner of ethically questionable acts, some by prominent and highly moral individuals. Written in her usual smooth and careful style, Leon poses a number of questions and again brings to calm and peaceful awareness, the life of this great city, and its past glories and world influence.

The careful and measured release of important information, Brunetti’s amusing and warm relationship with his wife and children, all here is artful competence. A wonderful story is successfully realized and is another star in the author’s pantheon.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Innocence GameThe Innocence Game 
Michael Harvey
Alfred A. Knopf, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-96125-9
Hardcover

Three college graduates come together in a special seminar designed to teach them some of the fundamental tools of high-level investigative journalism. Under the tutelage of seminar leader, Pulitzer prize winner, Judy Zombrowski, they will examine cases in which there is a suspicion of serious error, error which may have resulted in serious miscarriage of justice.

The three students are Northwestern University graduates Sarah Gold and Ian Joyce, and brilliant University of Chicago Law School graduate, Jake Haven. Although the seminar plans to be a relatively calm and rational look at distance cases, from the relatively sane academic halls of Northwestern University in Evanston. But in short order, the question of the conviction of a deceased James Harrison, for the murder of a poor young runaway, becomes the central focus of the trio’s efforts, and the action sags south to Chicago.

Tautly written, the author masterfully develops the characters and relationships of the three students and at the same time releases more and more clues and other pieces of information that can, at times, be distracting. The author does not neglect the physical side of their investigation. A number of intriguing and powerful events embroil the students in activity that tests their mental and physical abilities.

The Innocence Game is a first class thriller replete with twists and surprises and a smashing climax. Readers interested in the uses and conditions of our modern legal system will find this novel a first class experience.

A free copy of the novel was supplied to me with no conditions attached.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beyond ConfusionBeyond Confusion 
A Latouche County Library Mystery 
Sheila Simonson
Perseverance Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-56474-519-4
Trade Paperback

This novel is a stunning achievement and this reader was drawn in immediately, although I confess I don’t fully grasp the meaning and connection of the title. Several things are clear from the very beginning. In the space of three pages is established the unique relationship between head librarian, Meg McLean and Undersheriff Robert Neill. They live together unmarried in the small rural community near the border between Washington and Oregon.

The Klalo band of Native Americans are an important part of a story that cleverly and skillfully combines an insouciant and wicked humor with penetrating and thoughtful insight into terrible and moving events that would shape the future of the community.

Meg McLean demonstrates, at times, an incisive understanding of her library staff and even of herself and her relationship with Neill. The author’s wit is evident throughout the novel, yet her restraint keeps this on track as a serious examination of personalities, and the way their disparate views influence the operation of the county library system. Ms. McLean is in specific and frequent conflict with one librarian, Marybeth Jackman, who persists in attempts to undermine her boss, not just inside the library, but among the community leaders and the general public as well.

Author Simonson brings in other influences, attitudes of off-shoot religious organizations, rebellious teenagers, and prejudices affecting relationships between the white and native communities. With considerable care and expertise she weaves a complex yet understandable emotional whole. I found this to be an enthralling and moving novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Beastly Things by Donna Leon

Beastly Things
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2012
ISBN 978-0-8021-2023-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When the body of a man is found in a canal, damaged by the tides, carrying no wallet, and wearing only one shoe, Brunetti has little to work with. No local has filed a missing-person report, and no hotel guests have disappeared. Where was the crime scene? And how can Brunetti identify the man when he can’t show pictures of his face? The autopsy shows a way forward: it turns out the man was suffering from a rare, disfiguring disease. With Inspector Vianello, Brunetti canvasses shoe stores, and winds up on the mainland in Mestre, outside of his usual sphere. From a shopkeeper, they learn that the man had a kindly way with animals.

At the same time, animal rights and meat consumption are quickly becoming preoccupying issues at the Venice Questura, and in Brunetti’s home, where conversation at family meals offer a window into the joys and conflicts of Italian life. Perhaps with the help of Signorina Elettra, Brunetti and Vianello can identify the man and understand why someone wanted him dead.

Venetian detective Guido Brunetti is faced with a baffling case when a man with no identifying papers is found in the water but, with his usual cleverness and doggedness, he follows the few clues he has to put a name to the body. That turns out to be the easy part of solving this particular crime and finding out why he was murdered will lead to a far more extensive and alarming ongoing crime, one Brunetti may not be able to stop.

Beastly Things has some positive things going for it, primarily being able to spend more time with our beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti, his family and his colleagues Signorina Elettra and Inspector Lorenzo Vianello, but it ranks as one of my least favorite books in the series. It seems much shorter than previous titles with short chapters and a lot of white space and I was disturbed by the attention devoted to a topic that’s related to the mystery but given more importance.

I’ve been a big fan of Brunetti for years but this entry in the series has left me unsatisfied and a bit disturbed. Ms. Leon is known for addressing social issues of all kinds within the storylines but, this time, I felt the crime solving and the always-enjoyable family scenes were overshadowed by the agenda du jour, telling the reader what horrible things happen in the meat industry and, essentially, that we should all become vegetarians. I realize the books are set in Italy and that standards for treatment of the animals may not be the same as in the US but, all in all, I felt as though PETA’s objectives were the reason for this particular book. Yes, I’m a meat-eater and, yes, I know animals have to be killed for me to have that meat but the expose drawn by the author is too much. Chapter 19 should have a warning to the unsuspecting reader as it’s completely over the top and I almost stopped reading the book because of it. Also, when the reader is not being bombarded with this particular crusade, political corruption seems to be the fall-back position. The two themes become tiresome, topics to be endured in order to get back to the mystery that is meant to be the central story.

In the end, and I mean the end of the book, the magic that is the author’s writing talent returns with her description of the murder victim’s funeral service and she had me in tears as she so often does. Will I read the next book in the series? Yes, because Ms. Leon is such a gifted writer and the crime-solving is always good. I just hope that, in the future, the author will take a less-determined approach to saving the world and devote more time and energy to Brunetti and his activities.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.