Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #52 – The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman


One of these days I really want to write a book. A lot of the things I read that have been written recently really bug me because I’m pretty sure I could do better. But then every now and then a book comes along that shows me just how very untalented a hack I actually am. This is one of those books. Freaking killed me, y’all.

Anyway. Newspapers are dying, and have been for a while. There’s an English-language newspaper based in Rome that is trying valiantly to survive, but is finding it impossible. The story is told from the point of view of some of the workers, interspersed with the story of how (and why) the paper was founded. They’re all beautifully written, full of humor and pathos. An aging freelancer makes up a story (possibly compromising his own son in the process) just to get one more thing published; a new stringer is totally scammed by a veteran reporter who is totally full of shite; the n’er do well obituary writer finds new purpose after something horrible happens. Now that I think about it, not one of these stories has a happy ending, which I suppose is just like life.

The end of the story, as well as the end of the paper, is doubly sad given the reason why the paper was started in the first place (small spoiler: it was for love). The founder’s family has almost nothing to do with the paper, other than to weigh the bottom line (and find it wanting. I’m part of the problem, not of the solution, sort of. I do buy the Sunday paper most weeks, but I don’t read a whole lot of it. Always the funny papers, though. But I don’t subscribe, and I do get most of my news online.

The Imperfectionists is the perfect chronicle of a dying art, a dying profession. In a few decades, it might even be assigned reading in schools, and the teacher will likely have to explain to the kids what newspapers were, and the role they played in our lives. Triply sad.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #51 – A Dream of Death by Harrison Drake

There’s nothing wrong with a good serial killer murder mystery. There are many, many things wrong with a less-than-good serial killer murder mystery. Unfortunately, A Dream of Death is the latter. I actually got it from the library (website, that is) because it takes place in Canada, and I was curious to see how things were handled up there (aside from sticking the letter “u” in words like colo(u)r and odo(u)r).

So, anyway, someone is killing women in Ontario. They’re all home alone at night, but they don’t live alone. The killer wants someone to find the victim, so he’s only killing women who live with someone who works at night. Our hero is Lincoln Munroe, a mixed-race veteran detective with a happy family (of course). His partner is a beautiful, young, brilliant (did I mention beautiful) woman (also of course). He respects her, and does not see her as a sexual object in any way. Until he does. When’s that? When her boyfriend works the night shift (of course).

Anyway, his inability to figure out the crime is a problem for Lincoln. He’s pulling away from his family (even before he boinks his partner), and he’s been having bad dreams. Very real dreams where he sees a knife hanging from a tree, feels intense pain, and finds a body. Are they dreams, or flashbacks? And if they’re flashbacks, what are they all about? And when a skeleton is found in the woods in pretty much the same place Lincoln’s dreaming about, what’s up with that?

This being a murder mystery, of course it all gets solved, but in the most trite way possible. There may have been twists, but they were all so obvious that they really can’t be considered twists. Not that anyone out there is planning on reading this, but if you run across it, head for an old Agatha Christie instead.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #50 – The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd

Ah, yet another Victorian era murder mystery that involves Dickens and/or Dickensian characters. Not that I’m complaining, I like this kind of stuff. I’m mostly just jealous of the people who beat me to the idea, especially the good ones. And this one is pretty decent.

The story takes place in London, 1850. Our hero is Charles Maddox, a young man who wanted to be a police detective. Unfortunately, his detective skills and his temper got him dismissed from “the Detective,” and possibly gained him an enemy in Detective Bucket. Charles is named after his great-uncle, a famous thief taker; so now Charles begins a life as a private detective. Charles has some baggage, because what detective doesn’t have any – Charles’ baggage involves the disappearance of his sister, for which he blames himself. As the book progresses, we learn exactly how that event tore his family apart.

Charles is given a job by a famous barrister, Edward Tulkinghorne, who plays a role in Dickens’ Bleak House. In fact more than one Bleak House character appears here, because Shepherd used that book and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White as inspiration and source material. The job is to find a guy who has been sending threatening letters to a baronet. Charles finds the guy, gets his ass kicked by him, and then that guy is (of course) murdered.

There’s a lot going on here, and the author touches pretty much all of the Dickensian touchstones. Squalor of London? Check. Rat catching & dogs killing the rats? Check. Very young prostitutes? Check. Jack the Ripper? Check. It’s all there. Lots of cliches, but somehow the book was still gripping and a good read. The mystery and most of the perversions were pretty easy to figure out, but sometimes that’s Ok.

The author has another book – Murder at Mansfield Park – about which I’m pretty curious. I won’t be reading it until I can get it cheap or free on the Kindle, or through the library. The writer is good, but she’s not quite good enough to make me spend money. Yet.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #49 – The Poisoned Pilgrim – by Oliver Potzsch

Jakob Kuisl and his family are back again. His daughter Magdalena and her husband Simon are on a pilgrimage to a monastery to give thanks for the survival of their children. It’s a few years after the last book – Magdalena is a mom now, she’s got two boys who made it through the last plague that swept through the village. And monastery at Andechs is a pilgrimage spot because of a whole mess of religious relics which draw thousands of people from all over Bavaria. The gang heads there for the Festival of the Three Hosts.

After braving horrible storms, lightning, bandits and wolves, Magdalena and Simon get to the monastery. They don’t get to stay there with the other pilgrims, on account of being gross and beneath everyone. So they stay with Jakob’s cousin, the town’s knacker (the guy who skins all the dead animals). They also meet Brother Johannes, who isn’t what he seems to be. In fact, no one at Andechs is what they seem, which leads to all the usual mess that the Kuisls get into.

Some murders happen, and Magdalena writes to her dad to get him to come help. So the Scooby gang is back together, trying to figure out who committed the murders, where the monastery’s weird watchmaker guy went, and other mysteries. They’re also racing against the clock, to save Jakob’s old friend who is being held and tortured for the murders.

The story moves along quickly, with a bunch of twists and turns, plus Potzsch’s usual excellent research and sense of time and place. If you haven’t started this series, I highly recommend it.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #48 – Kitty Bennet’s Diary by Anna Elliot

Ah, yes – yet another Austen-adjacent story, this one involving the penultimate Bennet sister, Kitty. Elliot is responsible for the Georgiana Darcy diary books as well, and I have taken issue with her pairing Georgiana with Colonel Fitzwilliam. They both appear in the book, as does Mary Bennet, the middle, plain sister; Jane Bennet-Bingley; and Mrs. Hurst (nee Bingley) one of Mr. Bingley’s bitchy sisters.

Kitty and Mary have gone to London to visit with the Gardiners. Kitty is somewhat in mourning for her fiancé, or the guy who was her fiancé before she dumped him not long before the Battle of Waterloo. Kitty feels like she’s a horrible person, unworthy of love. So she decides instead to find a beau/husband for Mary. There’s a likely candidate, one of Uncle Phillips’ clerks, but then Mary falls in with a bad crowd, and becomes a flighty naughty girl with no thought for her reputation. Kind of like rumspringa, only with corsets.

Of course, Kitty meets the too-good-to-be-true Lancelot Dalton, who has some baggage of his own. Lance always seems to be there when Kitty is doing something embarrassing, or when Kitty needs him. Sometimes both. See if you can guess what happens there.

Kitty makes an interesting observation about her place in the family: Jane is the beautiful one; Lizzie is the most charming and witty; Mary is the most bookish; Lydia is the most spirited and vivacious. Which, as Kitty puts it, “left me the only Bennet sister without any distinguishing characteristic.” Which is actually pretty true, but this book makes Kitty the funny, resourceful sister, which certainly elevates her above her coughing, whinging self from the original.

These books are often fun and frothy, nothing that’s going to set the world on fire, but a decent read at the end of a day dealing with stupid people. I’d be curious to see what happens to Kitty next.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #47 – Grounds for Appeal by Bernard Knight

The third book in the Richard Pryor series starts with an interesting discovery – a body in a bog, hands tied, head gone. Dr. Pryor is called to check it out, and he brings the lovely Priscilla Chambers, who is filling in for Angela Bray while Angela tends to some family business. Turns out Priscilla is the perfect person for this because she’s not just a forensic biologist, she’s also a trained archaeologist. The body is excavated, and it’s clear he’s not a prehistoric bog man, but a much more recent kill. The cops take this one from there, and actually manage to track down who the guy is and what happened to him – mostly through a series of pretty incredible coincidences.

The other case they’re working on is an appeal – a woman has been (wrongfully?) convicted of killing her live-in abusive boyfriend. Angela comes back, and her biology stuff is instrumental in solving that one. There’s also a bit more ambiguous amorous thoughts – but no one acts on a thing. It’s almost too chaste, even for the 50s.

Dr. Pryor is also working on his vineyard – he’s got lots of land and has decided to become a winemaker. He visits with the only other winemaker in Wales, a French guy with some complicated family history that Richard and Angela try to help with.

These books aren’t going to win any awards, and they’re not going to keep anyone up at night, but they’re reasonable enough for an evening’s worth of reading.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #46 – According to the Evidence by Bernard Knight

Richard Pryor is back in the second book in this series, which starts a couple of months after the first book ended. The freelance private forensic team is doing well, with Dr. Pryor, Angela Bray the biologist, lab technician Sian, and the lovely young widow housekeeper Moira are adjusting to life with each other. The ladies have crushes on Richard, and he in turn feels things for each of them, but everything is all chummy for now.

Their newest case involves what at first looks like a suicide, but which Richard figures out is most likely a murder. The murder is at a farm in the middle of nowhere, so there’s a pretty limited suspect pool in this one. It was fairly easy to figure out, but still a decent story. The B story is a veterinarian who may have killed his terminally ill wife. The whole gang pitches in on that one, and the outcome hinges on some fairly obscure chemistry that turned out to be fairly boring.

It’s interesting how much has changed, how far we’ve come scientifically and technologically since the 1950s – which is not all that long ago. The team is having a phone installed with more than one line, they listen to the radio for entertainment, they have to find a phone to call someone, they even do research in books. No reaching into the pocket and finding everything they need right there on the smart phone.

The writing in these stories is fine, the “banter” isn’t terribly banter-y, but it’s a nice old fashioned mystery story, which is a fine thing on occasion.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #45 – Where Death Delights by Bernard Knight

The author of this book (and the others in the series) is a Welsh forensic pathologist, like his main character, Richard Pryor. Right now there are three books, I’ve read them all, and I giggled every time I thought of the American version doing and saying what the book version did. I’m easily amused.

So, it’s the early 1950s in England and Wales. Dr. Pryor was a medic and pathologist in the war, and worked in the Far East as a pathologist and professor. He returns to Wales after inheriting some property, and goes into the freelance pathology business with a woman biologist he met at a conference. They move into the house and set up shop with Sian, a local girl who does chemical testing.

The interesting thing about these books is that while (at least so far) the pathology folks help solve the crimes, the book also follows the cops and the investigation, and the cops do all the sleuthing for the most part. No one is ever in peril, which made for a nice change in books like this. They’re typical cozy mysteries, in Post-War Great Britain. Of course there are baddies, and murders, and good detailed explanations of the whole pathology thing. And a terrible attempt at banter – but that’s no surprise either, considering the age of the author.

In this one, the group helps determine whether a woman drowned by accident or was murdered. The story isn’t a barn-burner, but it was interesting enough to keep me going, and to bring me to the next two books. If you like basic cozies, you could do worse than this series.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review # 44 – The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

I do love my Agatha Christie novels. I kind of feel like I need to go back and re-watch the Dr. Who episode with her in it, even though the whole premise was pretty silly.

Anyway, this one’s a Miss Marple (which makes me want to go back and re-watch “Murder by Death,” with Miss Marbles and her nurse) from 1942. The story begins with the discovery of a BODY IN THE LIBRARY – a young lady who is a total stranger to everyone in the house. The library also belongs to Colonel and Dolly Bantry, good friends of Miss Jane Marple. The young lady is done up like a tart, which eventually leads to some not so nice rumours about the Colonel (not true, of course). There’s a new guy in town who works in film, who dates a blonde tart, so he’s of course a suspect. But his blonde tart is alive and well. This girl may turn out to be Ruby Keene, a dancer at a hotel (back when people touched when they danced, and not in the grindy twerky way). She’s identified by her cousin, who seems more angry than sad about this.

Ruby had just been taken under the wing of a wealthy widower, who is staying at the hotel with his son-in-law (widower as well) and daughter-in-law (widow) – they’re the only family he has left, because his wife, son and daughter were killed in the same accident that crippled him. The widower took a shine to Ruby, because she was a nice naive girl. Turns out he might have been planning to leave her a bunch of money. Meanwhile the in-laws aren’t exactly solvent, and are totally dependent on dad.

Then another young girl turns up missing, and then dead in a burned out car. Miss Marple of course figures out the connection, and the whole thing, while visiting her friends at the fancy hotel and just generally drinking tea and being Marple-y. The twist wasn’t too difficult to figure out, but the story did keep me guessing for most of the time. I always recommend these books, they’re just fun light reads.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #43 – Austenland by Shannon Hale

Ok, so I’m a little embarrassed about reading this book. But in my defense, it was an airport purchase, and kept me entertained from Tampa to New York. The flight is less than three hours, and I was just about done when we landed. It’s pretty short, but it’s also a breezy read, which makes sense. This isn’t deep stuff, folks; but it is fairly cute-ish. Plus, I adore Keri Russell and Bret Mackenzie, so I’ll likely be seeing the movie when it comes to pay-per-view. Not in the theater, though.

Anyway, Jane Hayes is your typical New York neurotic artsy type underemployed at a magazine of some sort, and obsessed with Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice. Not just Mr. Darcy, but Colin Firth’s Darcy from the BBC miniseries (yes, of course I own a copy on DVD). So her relationships with men aren’t satisfying. She has an elderly aunt who finds out about this, dies, and leaves Jane a trip to an estate in England catering to Austen fanatics. The estate provides a total Austen immersion, apparently at different pricing levels for different sorts of experiences. Jane has the budget trip, of course.

The female visitors to the estate are the paying customers, and it looks like most of the people who interact with the visitors are actors. The question is: is everyone else there aside from Jane and the two other ladies an actor, or are there real people working there too? Jane meets a couple of different men, meets cute (of course), and hijinks ensue. There are also asides between chapters, describing Jane’s love life up to the point where she enters Austenland. I haven’t decided if I liked that part or not, I’m leaning toward thinking it was annoying. Also annoying was a lot of the language – a bit too colloquial and diary-like for my tastes.

But, overall, it’s a fun and quick read, brainless and entertaining. Perfect for an airplane. I’m guessing the movie will be much the same.