Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Hotel in Paris: a Minola Grey Mystery by Margot Justes

Originally reviewed for Front Page Reviews

Margot Justes’ debut is a lovely light read but a consuming read. I’m happy to learn this is the first of a series. I don’t have anything negative to say about this book. I enjoyed it right through from beginning to end. It opens with a murder on page one, and the story becomes a delightfully interwoven mystery and romance. The main character, Minola, is a passionate innocent, an artist of great talent and the story is told with detail only an artist would see. Although not mentioned in her bio, Margot Justes must be an artist, or at the very least has the eye of an artist or photographer, one thing is certain she has an eye for detail that brings everything to life and colour. I do not mean by this that the book is overloaded with detail, it is all very much a part of the flow. The detail is essential to the story, and also gives the reader the feeling they are involved somehow.

The romance flows through the book weaving in and out of the murder investigation, one genre playing out smoothly with the second genre. A fascinating blend and dealt with a light touch. As first in a proposed series (the second book is in progress), there are some well established characters, building from their early entry in the book to the final page. Other lesser characters add colour and interest to the story. The character of Minola is someone I would enjoy a cup of coffee with, and I would love to visit an art gallery with her. You can not help but feel attached to her and she seems to attract people with her personality and conviction. Peter, the Chief Inspector from Interpol, must consider Minola as a suspect, but also a witness as the person who was first on the scene of the murder. He must learn patience in his meetings with her and also learn to believe a person can be totally honest, not a trait he is used to. He is working on the case with the French police solely because the murder victim was already being investigated by Interpol for his international financial affairs.

I will be watching for the next episode in this series and look forward to it with pleasure. Thanks to Margot for an entertaining and suspenseful book. I recommend this book for its flow, research, interesting characters and a story that builds from start to finish.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Incomplete Revenge (A Maisie Dobbs Novel) by Jacqueline Winspear

I was very taken with this book I loved the many textures and the fullness of characters, the setting of the late 1930s interspersed with a background story from WWI. I had never read a Maisie Dobbs story before but am fast becoming a new fan! Quite aside from the many mysterious happenings, I enjoyed learning of hop-picking, and the rich fullness of gypsies and gypsy lore.

Jacqueline Winspear has a very fluid voice in telling the story, understands the nuances in people, fear, hope, revenge, forgiveness, and the need to live a full life. The formation of who Maisie is unfolds throughout the book. She is a strong woman, conscientious, tolerant and compassionate. Her title of psychologist and investigator might well read psychic investigator, given her abilities and attunement to nature. There were many strands to be woven in this tapestry, with a lot of knots and tangles. The mysteries maintained a strong level and I was happy to see so much of the tapestry tied off in the Epilogue.

The many characters in the book are victims of the very crimes they were involved in and you cannot help but feel the fear and incitement for what was done without even realizing why. The despicable but lazy “Lord of the Manor” of the village is one of the feeblest strong-arms I’ve ever met in a book, I think. Does he deserve the outcome? Most probably, but maybe it was once again the easy way of doing things. Overall, a very honest and satisfying read, you can be sure I will be reading more of Maisie’s cases. Thanks to Jacqueline Winspear for one of my new favourite series! I recommend this book for the light mystery it is, a great antidote for between heavier tomes, enjoyable and fulfilling; I do like a book that I can learn something new from, too.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

This review is based on a bound galley.
Land of Marvels is a two-sided statement. Taking place primarily at an archaeological dig, where hope reigns that there will be vast historic value to be discovered. There is also a separate, secondary love story running through the background with tales of the marvels that can be enjoyed in a wonderful city. The dig is a very real archaeological exploration; the stories are tales told to impress a loved one. Barry Unsworth has a wonderful way of bringing the past into the present, as though the reader is witnessing the events. The location is Mesopotamia, just prior to WWI and the fall of the Ottoman empire.

The archaeologist is the innocent hero of our story; he dreams of recognition and discovering marvelous historic treasure. One of his assistants is a hungry man who requires money in order to marry his love. But there is a fairly large cast of characters in this tale. Coincidences abound, or are they coincidences? Many paths cross back and forth politically driven, greed driven, and fear driven. There are spies spying on spies, and lots of curious incidents. Peopled with so many characters one might expect confusion to reign but this is not the case. The book keeps itself tied together weaving in and out of lives and land. The main constant, though, would seem to be time. A railway under construction threatens almost every agenda and task. The ending is climactic. This is fascinating historical fiction of an area not written about to the extent of others, which is interesting in itself. In reality, this is the pre-history of Iraq. I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction, but it is more than that.