Review: An Unwilling Accomplice

AnUnwillingAccompliceTodd8259_f An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd
Mystery/Historical Fiction
ISBN: 9780062237194 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062326447 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062237217 (digital)
William Morrow an imprint of HarperCollins

FTC Disclosure: Advanced review copy provided by publisher

 

I can never get enough of historical fiction, especially mysteries. I guess this was born from reading a bit of Agatha Christie, although hers are only “historical” because of how much time has passed since initial publication. Nowadays, whenever I want a reliable read, I don’t look much further than Charles Todd and his Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford mysteries. Although it must be noted, Charles Todd is actually a mother and son writing team who work so well together, that determining who contributed what in any of their books is impossible.

An Unwilling Accomplice is one of the latest installments of the Bess Crawford mystery series. Set toward the end of World War I, this particular story finds Bess on a short leave looking forward to some much needed rest. However, she’s been requested to accompany a wounded soldier to Buckingham Palace where the man is to receive a medal.

The mystery begins subtly as she doesn’t recognize the name and with her memory of wounds, she’s sure she would have remembered him. Regardless, she does her duty only to be repaid by the man up and disappearing. The next time she hears about him, he is suspected of committing murder and is on the run.

Bess is yet again caught up with intrigue during a tumultuous time in England which quickly mirrors itself in Bess’ life as she strives to right a wrong. This time the situation nearly causes her to lose her place in the nursing service, as well as the respect of her superiors she’s worked so hard to earn on her own, not as her father’s daughter.

The story is engaging and keeps your attention through every chapter. In the past, she’s received some help from her family, but this particular adventure is primarily her and Simon Brandon working to find the truth before their suspect kills again. Another difference is that most of the book is set in England while Bess is on leave, giving those familiar with the series a break from the war just like their heroine Bess.

At 352 pages, you won’t feel the need to skip along, because the story never drags. There is little predictability and the plot is complex enough but not over the top. Highly, highly recommended!

Fans of Maisie Dobbs and Maggie Hope will love Bess and once Todd has you hooked, you have to check out the Ian Rutledge mysteries. The first book in that series is called A Test of Wills.

The official author website is www.charlestodd.com and they can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CharlesToddNovels.

Find more of Charles Todd books on Amazon. They can also be found at Powell’s Books.

JC

 

 

Flashback Friday: Middlesex

Enough of Throw Back Thursdays. How about strolling through memory lane in Reviewland? Here is a good one originally posted July 18, 2009.

Considering I started blogging late 2007, it should be interesting to see what I can find in the vaults. It’s pretty interesting to dig up these reviews. Gives me a chance to see if I feel the same way of if a book needs a re-read and a re-think.

 

middlesex Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Fiction, 529 pages
Picador (USA) Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2003

FTC Disclosure: Purchased (by me)

 

Middlesex is the story of Calliope Helen Stephanides, later known as Cal, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family. Calliope is not like other girls. As she writes:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.

This is so much more than a coming-of-age novel. Hard enough for most kids to deal with growing up as it is, but (and this isn’t a spoiler, trust me) to approach this milestone as a hermaphrodite, brings a whole new dynamic to the experience.

Arrayed in their regiments, my genes carry out their orders. All except two, a pair of miscreants – or revolutionaries, depending on your view – hiding out on chromosome number 5. Together, they siphon off an enzyme, which stops the production of a certain hormone, which complicates my life.

Eugenides narrative surpasses any expectations I had regarding how he would handle such a subject. I constantly had to stop, and think, how he was able to so deftly write in a voice I firmly believed was Cal’s. The author disappears completely, as he should, and leaves the reader feeling they are reading a memoir. I love the objectiveness of Cal’s tone. Far enough away that most of the emotion has softened, yet not so much that the reader ever feels held at a distance. On the contrary, the honesty and humor of the narrator is what kept me turning pages.

How did we get used to things? What happened to our memories? Did Calliope have to die in order to make room for Cal? To all these questions I ffer the same truism: it’s amazing what you can get used to.

Calliope does not die because she is an integral part of Cal. This story is how she, and he, come to terms with this reality. The only reason I did not read it in one sitting is that this is a book that deserves one’s full attention. However, I could not restrain myself as I got closer to the end. In fact, I stayed up to four in the morning finishing the book as I simply could not put it down. Obviously, this novel is highly recommended. Not knowing I would like it so much I bought a very, well-loved used copy. I definitely will be on the lookout for a newer version, if not just going out and buying one off the shelf. Which I should do as this a book that deserves a forever home. Like mine. JCa

 

 

Jeffrey Eugenides first novel The Virgin Suicides, was published in 1993. In 2003, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and France’s Prix Medicis.

Review: The Killings At Badger’s Drift

TheKillingsAtBadgersDriftThe Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham
Crime Fiction/Mystery
ISBN: 9781933397047
Felony & Mayhem Press

 

FTC Disclosure: My own book (birthday present)

 

 

For those of you who are familiar with the television show Midsomer Murders and have never read the series they are based on, I have to ask you one question: Why?

I admit though that I’ve been watching the series for years, but didn’t discover until recently it was based on novels by Caroline Graham. I put them on my wish list, so when I found a copy of the first book when I went shopping on my birthday I knew it was kismet.

There were very few things changed for television, nearly all minor. The only major one was the fate of Dennis Rainbird. I won’t say more in case you’re unfamiliar with the series.

Mrs. Barnaby’s cooking is as bad as in the show; perhaps worse.

Barnaby laid down his knife and fork. You could ask just so much from ordinary tempered cutlery.

Troy’s driving (and attitude toward just about everything) is as depicted.

There’s no need to drive as if you’re auditioning for the Sweeney*, Sergeant.

One difference, although not all that important in the greater scheme of things, is that Troy is married in the book. This fact is mentioned rarely as his other half isn’t needed to help define his character, whereas Joyce Barnaby’s relationship to her husband is critical.

Tom Barnaby loved his wife. Joyce was kind and patient. She was a good listener. He always talked when he came home, usually about work, knowing her discretion was absolute. And she would look as interested and concerned at the end of half an hour as she had at the beginning.

His wife is his sounding board and confidant and knows more than she ever lets on to her husband. When she does respond, it’s timed well and is gentle and understanding. It works perfectly in balancing Barnaby’s character.

Then there is Caroline Graham’s way with a descriptive phrase. It was breathtaking at times; a true mystery writer’s prose, never being too trite or too dark.

She took a Burberry cape from a hook behind the door and flapped her way into it.

*****

Even when it was shorn of the eulogistic flavour deemed obligatory in all statements about the recently dead, Barnaby was still left with the picture of a singularly nice human being.

*****

Barbaby sank into an armchair thickly barnacled with bumps of crochet.

And my favorite:

She could have been any age between thirty and sixty. The only certain thing was she hadn’t been a girl since he’d been a been a boy scout…She wore lipstick like vermilion Vaseline and thick makeup journeyed over the eruptions and into the craters of her complexion. You could join all those dots up till the cows come home, thought Barnaby, and never reach the hidden treasure.

The TV series is a favorite, but after reading this first novel in the series, I’m hooked even deeper. All the characters from the show are done well and pretty much in sync with the novel, but it’s the thoughts, the observations, all the things that can’t be translated completely into a script that makes reading the books so much better.

I still am not the fondest of Troy, and I think the book does Joyce more justice than the TV series – but this is why I like Caroline Grahams writing so much. The development of the plot and its characters is so much more robust than what I’ve seen represented visually.

I’m usually disappointed when I watch adaptations of a book, but not this time. Quite the opposite. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Caroline Graham’s books as well as watch more repeats of Midsomer Murders. I feel the books, much like the shows, are ones I’ll return to from time to time and never, ever, lend out.

Sorry my friends, if you want some of your own Midsomer goodness, you’re going to have to go buy it yourself or hope your library has copies. Mine are going onto the “if there was a fire and you could only grab one box of books” shelf.

* – The Sweeney referenced isn’t the film many many remember from 2012. This book was written in 1987. It’s more related to the series that starred John Thaw, yes that John Thaw, filmed in the 1970’s.

The Killings At Badger’s Drift available at or on Amazon.

JC