Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mystery Sequel Round-Up

I've accumulated a few mystery reads, and thought I'd group them. I'm never exactly sure how to handle reviews of series books: do I treat each book as an individual or do I review the series as a whole? Do I judge the book based on its context in the series or as a stand-alone? Certainly, if I'm reading #2 in a series (and particularly later books), I consider the series worth reading, and that's going to color my review. I think I tend toward reviewing the series and I try to avoid revealing anything about subsequent books (in terms of larger plot and character developments) that might spoil things for someone who decides to start with the first. Anyway, onto the books:

Murder at the Murder at the Mimosa Inn by Joan Hess: The title is not mistyped! This, the second entry in Joan Hess's Claire Malloy series (the first is Strangled Prose), takes place at a murder mystery weekend held at the Mimosa Inn. Farber College's theater troupe stages several disagreements, clues are planted, and Claire is excited to show off her investigative skills. Things change abruptly when the murder victim turns out to have been actually murdered. Claire must sift through the fake motives and alibis provided for entertainment to unmask the unscripted killer. I find Joan Hess to be really funny in a dry, erudite sort of way (I hope that's not off-putting--she seriously cracks me up!). Sometimes if I'm skimming a bit, I realize I almost missed a funny wordplay joke. Claire is likeable and her trials with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Caron, are entertaining. Her competitive streak with regard to investigating murders manifests itself in funny ways, too. I thought this was an excellent entry in the series--the confusion of the murder mystery weekend was an enjoyable venue, and the supporting characters are a lot of fun. Caron, annoyed at having been dragged on this trip with her mother, is particularly overdramatic. I've enjoyed the first few in the series and am re-reading them after a few years (I think I read 1-4 or something). The first novel was published in 1986 or so, I believe, so they might seem a bit dated. I think of them as historical :)

Dear Miss Demeanor by Joan Hess: In #3 of the Claire Malloy series, Caron begs her mother to investigate the allegations that Miss Parchester, Journalism teacher at Farber High, has embezzled funds. Caron's interest in the matter is entirely self-serving; the senior who pens the Dear Miss Demeanor etiquette column in the school newspaper has mono and Caron is up for her job as long as Miss Parchester can return to work. Claire goes undercover as Miss Parchester's replacement. Her total apathy for what the students learn under her wing is hilarious, as are her descriptions of the other teachers. Not surprisingly, scandals abound and the stakes are raised when the principal's last meal turns out to be poisoned compote left in the teacher's lounge by Miss Parchester herself. I really thought the high school setting and supporting characters were fun; the overworked/underpaid teachers, the vice principal obsessed with rules and regulations, Caron's desperation to make her mark as Miss Demeanor, all make for good entertainment. There are enough red herrings that I was guessing until the end.

Here's my review of Strangled Prose.

Dig Deep For Murder by Kate Kingsbury: This is #4 in the Manor House series, and I enjoyed my visit with Lady Elizabeth and the tenants at Sitting Marsh during WWII. The solution to the mystery in this one was rather obvious to me early on, but no matter. The real entertainment here is the soap opera. Will Lady Elizabeth and her American Major get together this time? What's up with the ghosts the butler keeps seeing--is he just barmy or is something more sinister at work? Will Rita finally lead the Housewives Brigades to invade Germany (kidding!)? I've read that her Pennyfoot Hotel series (set in Edwardian London, I believe) is better, so I started with this one. The first is A Bicycle Built for Murder, and I think this series is a wonderful guilty pleasure. You can pretend it's historical and therefore weightier than it is :)

Here's my review of A Bicycle Built for Murder.


Holly said...

Hmm...your question about reviewing a series is an interesting one. I think reviewing them within the context of the series makes sense. How do they relate to the others in the series? Is this one better or worse than others?

I think most series have things in them that repeat throughout (ie: Stephanie blowing up a car in the Plum Series) so once those are mentioned, I don't think they need to be written about again.

I think a plot summary is good even if its similar to others in the series. Maybe just link to the review of the first book in the series in any subsequent posts that way someone unfamiliar with the earlier books can look back and see what you're talking about? And you don't feel like you have to repeat what you said about recurring characters or whatever.

Just my two cents. :-)

allisonmariecat said...

Oh, I like the idea of linking to the review of book #1! I'll have to go back and start adding those in. It'll be nice not to feel like I'm doing the same review over and over for a series with 16 books!

I almost didn't bother with plot summaries for the sequels, really, but sometimes the plot of a later book grabs me as interesting, so I decide to read the series from the beginning (where maybe book #1 didn't have a "must read" plot for me).