Title: Seven for a Secret
Author: Lyndsay Faye
Publisher/Publication Date: Putnam, Pub. date Jul. 11, 2013
Seven for a Secret, the squeal to Faye’s Gods of Gotham, is set in New York City in 1845, shortly after the creation of the New York Police Department. Timothy Wilde, a talented detective, who gets pulled into a missing persons case by the lovely Lucy Adams. But there is much more to case than Wilde originally realizes since Lucy and her sister are of mixed heritage and New York isn’t exactly a staunch defender when it comes to preventing people from snatching supposed runaway slaves. Of course, there is always much more to the story than it first appears and Wilde quickly finds himself, his brother Valentine, and Lucy’s family, her sister Delia and her son Jonas, embroiled in a much larger conspiracy. The mystery as well as Timothy Wilde’s conflicts of conscious keep the plot moving along at a quick pace and never give the reader a chance to get board or distracted.
Not having read Gods of Gotham, I get the feeling that there were a number of things I may not have necessarily picked up on but overall the story is told skillfully enough that I wasn’t distracted by what I may not have known. For those of you that have seen Copper, there is a very similar tone given the comparable settings. Faye does an excellent job building her world and the descriptions of places and people serve as a real draw into the story. Her characters are also well fleshed out and tend to be good but flawed. One of my favorite things in a story is a character who is far from perfect but still manages to be a truly good person. Timothy and Valentine both fall into that category and it makes it wonderful to see how they navigate inside of a not necessarily upstanding world. Faye also isn’t shy about highlighting the issues present in the society of that time.
Overall I was thrilled to have picked up Seven for a Secret and I am extremely eager to get ahold of Gods of Gotham and any future books in the series. Timothy Wilde strikes me as a character with real staying power and Faye obviously has the talent to develop storylines and characters to keep the series moving.
Title: The Clockwork Scarab
Author: Colleen Gleason
Publisher/Publication Date: Chronicle Books, Pub. date Aug. 16, 2013
I was so excited when I picked up The Clockwork Scarab at ALA Annual 2013. I stumbled across the coupon for it in the book and was instantly smitten with the premise of Bram Stoker’s half-sister and Sherlock Holmes’s niece teaming up to solve mysteries. Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes are both quick-witted, talented, and intelligent girls with a real passion for crime solving while still dealing with the kerfuffles that come from being sixteen-year olds in 19th century London. The book reminds me a lot of Gail Carriger (which is high praise indeed coming from me) in that it combines humor, adventure, mystery, and manners.
Their first case involves a series of mysterious deaths of young women of means, the only link seeming to be an Egyptian scarab. Mina and Evaline must figure out how the girls are connected, what the scarab means, and who is behind these inexplicable tragedies. There is a small bit of romance thrown in but nothing overly heavy handed and the girls remain the focus of the story throughout. Though the time-traveling nature of Dylan Eckhert did feel a little out of place to me. I felt that the story was more than strong enough to stand on its own and the time-traveling didn’t really seem to fit. Gleason ties it in with other elements of the plot so that it makes sense, it just didn’t seem to fit to me. I would have preferred that little storyline be left out, but not enough that it took away any real enjoyment from reading. It will be interesting to see how that storyline continues to develop throughout the series.
The narrative goes back and forth between Mina and Evaline as narrators which is a great way to give them both a strong voice as well as to help the reader get a better sense of the ups and downs of this new partnership. It’s fascinating to watch as Mina and Evaline learn to navigate around each other and work together, no easy feat for two such strong-willed characters who are both more than aware of their exceptional nature. Sixteen is such a great age because the girls have firmly developed personalities but are still dealing with the awkwardness that comes from being an exceptional sixteen girl, especially in the 16th century where expectations were pretty narrow.
I would definitely recommend this book for a good read. It’s thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable and I am greatly looking forward to reading more in the series as they become available.
Title: A Beast in Venice
Author: Michael E. Hendersen
Publisher/Publication Date: Gemelli Press; pub. date Dec. 15, 2013
Well, it had to happen eventually. I suppose it was too much to think that all my reviews could be filled with rainbows and puppies and fangirling. I picked this book up on Netgalley because the plot sounded interesting and I do love all things Italian so the Venetian setting was also a plus. The concept of shroud eaters is intriguing and I’m always up for a good mystery romp with a traditional good versus evil bent. Most of the plot does not disappoint. It’s interesting to see Brigham’s knowledge of shroud eaters develop and there is a lot of potential tension between Brigham and his wife as he struggles to make sense of what is happening and to get her to see what is happening.
So, plot, lots of promise. Execution, however, was more than a little painful. The book is in desperate need of an editor. Much of the dialogue is cringeworthy, the main character Brigham is a self-absorbed misogynist, and while the plot is interesting, there are huge gaps in what is occurring. A lot of the best possibilities for growth and development are simply glossed over. Brigham’s fear of growing old and dying seems to make him completely oblivious to the fact that he’s pretty much a crappy person who treats his wife like shit and then seems completely unconcerned when she goes missing. He makes noises about being concerned but doesn’t make any real effort to locate her or even to convince the police that she’s really missing. Brigham’s ridiculous nature and poor attitude made it hard for me to get really involved in the book. I’m sure that there are many people who could overlook those and focus strictly on the plot to enjoy the book. I’m just not one of them. To be honest, I’m quite surprised I even managed to finish the book. I think with some polish and the advice of an editor, the book could have more potential. Until then, though, I would have a difficult time encouraging anyone to try this book.
Title: The Red Queen Dies
Author: Frankie Y. Bailey
Publisher/Publication Date: Minotaur Books, pub. date September 10th, 2013
The Red Queen Dies caught my eye because it involves two of my favorite things: Alice in Wonderland and crime. I do so love a good mystery novel. Overall, the book was a fairly enjoyable and quick read.
Hannah McCabe, our crime fighting detective, is a likeable character. Obviously intelligent and dedicated to her job, she still has moments of humanity throughout the book to prevent her from becoming the cold and stoic detective that seems to pop up so often in crime fiction. Her somewhat crotchety father was also a favorite of mine throughout the book and I hope to see him again in future books in the series. Character development overall is weak throughout the novel, but as it is intended to be the first book in a series and the fairly short length, this didn’t really surprise me. There is enough shown about the characters to keep the reader interested in future stories but I would have preferred a little bit more development at least about Hannah.
Something similar occurs with portions of the plot. The mystery itself I really liked. While I had an inkling of who the killer was, it was still nice to watch all the pieces fall into place. What I had some issues with was some of the secondary story lines. Portions of the book, especially some of the scenes with Ashby and then Pettigrew, seemed forced in there to serve as some sort of cliff-hanger but without the cliff(i.e. no danger, just unanswered questions). I understand the need to give readers a reason to come back, but this can also be accomplished by building a strong character that the reader becomes attached to and that’s why they come back. Stuart McBride does this with his Logan McRae series. I came back for the second book because of McRae, not because of any dangling plot threads.
I liked Bailey’s writing throughout the book. The short and to the point voice of the narrative lends an immediacy to the text that works well in a mystery novel. Portions of the book reminded me of the old time hard-boiled mysteries of Dashiell Hamett. The first book in a series often isn’t a great indication of the real writing strengths of an author or staying power of a character, so I’m going to hold off on making a final decision on the series until I can read the second book. The series and its detective have serious potential, but I’d like to see a little bit more focus in the plot or better development of the secondary storylines to make them more than throwaway scenes.