Futrelle: The Problem of Cell 13

I’ve had this link hanging around for some time. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t read this story before last month, and located it due to a link from a blogger, which I’ve now lost.

It’s well worth reading, and a great deal of fun.

(Updated to include the link; my apologies to early readers!)

Mixing Genres or Strong in Multiple Areas

One of the things that makes me do some thinking when I write on this blog is that I am not entirely certain of why I like the things I like. This is especially interesting when I encounter a story that I do not enjoy, and yet that I think is well written. Something in my occasionally logical brain is offended at the realization that my enjoyment doesn’t fully follow my more technical appraisal.

Now it may simply be that I have not done enough serious looking at the literature that I read. If I study it more closely I may do a better job of determining why I like certain things but not others. At the moment I believe that characterization impacts my appreciation of a story much more than plot. I have read some stories in which I thought the plot was not all that good, but yet I enjoyed it because of the quality of portrayal of the characters.

But what I have noticed over the last few weeks is that I truly like stories that are very strong in more than one area. I could call it mixing genres, but these are truly properly fitted into a single genre; they just offer elements of another.

For example, I like military fiction. I like military history as well, but military fiction is fun. I also like science fiction. But some of my favorite science fiction writers are folks who do a good job combining good military writing and science fiction, such as David Weber and David Drake.

In recent reading suggested by my wife, I read Nora Roberts’ books Sacred Sins and Brazen Virtue. Normally I dislike romance, but the mixture of elements of mystery and a small amount of suspense made that reading workable.

I’m not trying to get technical here–not that I could in this area–I’m just looking at what I like. I’m also not trying to be prescriptive. It’s not that such stories are better; I just enjoy them more.

Book: Cat’s Eyewitness

OK, here I am with another book with [tag]cats[/tag] in it, and another one in a series I’ve already written some about, a [tag]Mrs. Murphy Mystery[/tag]. My most recent entry was on reading The Tail of the Tip-Off, which I rated a 4. [tag]Rita Mae Brown[/tag] and [tag]Sneaky Pie Brown[/tag] are just too good not to keep on reading.

I’m getting into more contemporary times with “Harry” Harristeen now having resigned from the post office, and wondering what to do next. The kind of touch and go romance between her and Fair continues, as do her friendly collisions with the sheriff who thinks she’s going to get herself killed. As usual, by listening to their fellow creatures, the animals get ahead of the game and let the reader in on the action just a bit ahead of time.

In this case I suspected, but did not know who was actually responsible, and I missed a key point of evidence that would have confirmed the bad guy to me. The clues are all there if you read carefully and don’t assume anything that isn’t explicitly stated.

The mystery centers around a monastery, which seems an unusual setting for a murder mystery, but it turns out that the brothers are people too, with all of the potential for trouble that means in their lives. The story comes complete with a weeping statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

As it says on the cover, “it takes a cat to write the purr-fect mystery”–excessively cute, yes, but true and forgiven.

Again, my rating is a 4 out of 5.

Book: The Tail of the Tip-Off

I previously wrote about Claws and Effect, and though I’ve read a couple of other books in this series I hadn’t posted anything about them. So I thought I’d write a few notes on another in this series.

I want to warn you right off that this is a series in which the animals can talk, or perhaps better communicate with one another, even carrying on fairly sophisticated conversations. The humans (stupid us!) can’t understand them, though they can understand the humans. Some folks don’t like this sort of thing. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that much, especially since the animals generally behave appropriately for their species.

We’re again in Crozet, Virginia (where else?) and someone has died in a very mysterious way. I found pretty much all aspects of the murder better than the average for this series. The method is intriguing and the motivation works for me.

I always enjoy the assortment of small town characters, and I don’t suppose I’ve mentioned more than a dozen times or so in various entries on this blog that I am a major pushover for books featuring cats. The main dog character is not bad either, but I have a soft spot for cats.

The ever curious Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen is up to all her usual antics, regularly getting herself in considerable trouble. She always show so much more intelligence in finding clues than in comprehending the fact that some people may not be too happy she’s trailing them.

This is another light reading book; excellent mystery, but generally not requiring you to be in study mode when you read it.

Numerical rating: 4.

Book: Raining Cats and Dogs

I’ve been missing in action for a couple of weeks, as I was finishing a manuscript (non-fiction, When People Speak for God), but I haven’t quit reading.

I just completed Laurien Berenson’s Raining Cats and Dogs, a Melanie Travis Mystery. I picked up the book because it has to do with animals though I didn’t look all that carefully at the details. I do like to pick up books I have never heard of and just check them out.

What I got was some good relaxing evening reading. The dogs in this mystery don’t solve crimes or do anything other than just be dogs. Now I’m not much of a dog person. I’d prefer if it was cats hanging around being cats. There are a certain number (large to no-cat-people) of cats involved, causing a certain amount of feline trouble, but the dogs are stars.

The mystery seems to me to play out a bit in the background which is also not my preference. Melanie Travis is a detective more by accident than intent, which changes the way she operates. Nonetheless, the story line itself is interesting. The suspense is light. We are not made to feel that another crime is around the corner or that great evil is lurking. In fact, such evil as there is seems very human.

I rate this a 3 of 5. (I remind readers of the explanation for my ratings. One or two people seem to have felt that 3 was a negative rating, when in fact the bulk of my reading is works that I rate as a 3.)

Book: A Ruinous Wind

I looked back at previous notes and found a brief note in this general post in which I am not too excited about Pilkington after reading a previous work, The Maiden Bell. I did indicate that I would probably read something else by the same author, but wasn’t in a hurry. Now I have, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I would call it a four, rather than the three I gave the previous book, and I can’t actually see the difference. I just must have been in a different mood when I read this one.

Thomas the Falconer is an interesting character, a very intelligent person stuck in a hierarchical society as a commoner. He manages to do well under those circumstances and he has a good, honest employer/lord who provides him with the freedom to do what he needs. He would prefer just taking care of the hawks, but he ends up spending a good deal of time solving mysteries.

In this story, he is thrust into a situation in which both he and his lord are in great danger. A very violent murderer is on the loose, and it is almost impossible to discover his motives or where he will strike next. I was surprised by the finish, which is one criteria I have for enjoying a novel. I don’t mind figuring out who the guilty party is early provided I feel clever when I do it. If it’s obvious and just falls into my lap it tends to annoy me.

In any case, the solution doesn’t come till the end and there are plenty of moments of action and suspense between. Reading A Ruinous Wind makes me more anxious to find more John Pilkington mysteries.

Book: Born in Death

J. D. Robb continues the saga of Eve Dallas and Roark with this delightful action story with some mystery. I found myself guessing ahead correctly a bit too often, but the story moves well in any case.

Eve finds herself handling two complex cases simultaneously. With the department insinuating that she might not be trustworthy because she’s dealing with substantial amounts of financial data that might get to Roark, who might use it for his own benefit, she and Roark decide to tackle the issue head on and challenge the department, the criminals, and some very powerful people.

All of this is entwined with the preparations for Mavis to give birth with Roark and Eve serving as coaches. At some times, one wonders which will be more challenging, the criminal element or the baby element. Eve survives the attacks of criminals, but a baby shower seems more challenging.

I confess that J. D. Robb grows on me as time goes on. She’s one of the rare contemporary authors that I truly enjoy.

DVD: The Lord Peter Wimsey-Harriet Vane Collection – Strong Poison / Have His Carcass / Gaudy Night)

Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter mysteries are among my favorite mystery books, so I was happy to find this collection of videos. I have to confess that I really didn’t like Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, but Edward Petheridge is much more convincing in the part. Harriet Walter is a convincing Harriet Vane.

The story follows the books fairly closely. I truly have no major complaints about the videos. Of course the Harriet Vane stories have the fairly odd set of echanges between Wimsey and Vane as Wimsey is determined to marry her, while she is determined not to marry.

I recommend these DVDs to fans of Dorothy Sayers without reservations.