Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross (From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane), by Lisa Tuttle. Hydra, 2017

The adventure starts when someone bangs relentlessly on the front door at the combined office and living quarters of detectives Jesperson and Lane in the small hours of the morning. When admitted, he is sweating and disheveled. He points to Lane and says “Witch!” and drops dead.

Neither of them know the man, so a quick search of his pockets is made. An address book is found and Lane hastily copies it before the police can arrive. This enables them to locate his brother, who hires them to find out how Charles Manning died. The coroner says it was a heart attack, but Manning was in perfect health. So off they go to Aylmerton, where he had spent much time, to check things out. There they find quite a set of characters: the Reverend Ringer, a foe of superstition, and his wife, who wants the world to adhere to her wishes. A trio of sister living alone who have the reputation for being witches. Felix Ott, a fan of historic English folklore, was an associate of Mannings in their studies of the supernatural. There is a cunning man, who supplies men with Victorian Viagra. Even the landscape has a personality- the Shrieking Pits, prehistoric holes in the ground, are alleged to be haunted. Then a baby disappears.

Numerous plot strands and false leads make for entertaining reading, and an atmosphere of menace pervades the story. But Jesperson (male) uses Lane (female) as someone to glean information for him but doesn’t bother to tell her what he’s learned in return. He treats her somewhat as a useful servant. He also seems a bit full of himself. The use of a mixed gender team works well in the setting, though- while Lane cannot participate in certain goings on because of her sex, her femaleness allows her entrĂ©e into situations that Jesperson cannot enter: befriending the women who live in the Vicarage and spending time with the three possible witch sisters. The author has a good grasp of life in the Victorian era. Four stars out of five. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from Net Galley in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles, by William McKeen. Chicago Review Press, 2017

While this book covers the Los Angeles music scene of the 60s, the backbone of the book is the story of the Beach Boys. Beginning with their early teen days of using music to keep their brutal, abusive, father from beating them, to the days when they worked with Jan and Dean, and then the LA studio musicians that were known as the Wrecking Crew (a crew that included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell), the book takes side roads through music other than surf pop. The Greenwich Village folk scene that spawned Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, and Cass Elliot. The “race music” that black musicians were putting out, mainly in the south. The various permutations Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, including bands before, during, and after. Frank Sinatra, which rather baffled me, although he was producing music that got played on the rock stations (and a chapter on how his son was kidnapped). Phil Spector and his Wall of Sound. The sex and drugs. How Charles Manson drifted around in the music world, living in Dennis Wilson’s house with his who knows how many girls, and getting a recommendation from Neil Young (the producer passed). Through the various chapters, the story returns again and again to the Beach Boys. The final chapter updates us on what happened to all those people, ending, as it began, with Brian Wilson.

I picked this book up as being of just passing interest; I was never into the surf and car music of the early 60s. But I saw that it was about more than that, so I figured I’d give it a try. I ended up not being able to put it down. It seems like the entire rock music industry was interconnected. It’s well written, entertaining (albeit depressing a lot of the time, but that’s what happened), and apparently well researched. This isn’t a memoir from someone who was there; McKeen is a professor of journalism, so I assume he takes a neutral approach to the material. Five stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This in no way influenced my review.  

Fortune Like the Moon, by Alys Clare. St. Martin’s Press, 1999

After the untimely death of his older brother, and then of his father, Henry II, Richard Plantagenet has inherited the throne of England. He thinks little of England; he’s lived in France most of his life. To celebrate his coming coronation, he orders the jails emptied. That turns out to be a poor idea, as many people figure this will result in a rise in crime. Soon, indeed, a rape/murder of a young nun, occurs, and Richard (not yet the Lion Hearted) sends an aide, the knight Josse d’Acquin, to investigate, hoping that the killer is not a former convict.

At the abbey, Josse and the Abbess Helewise set out to solve the murder- which turns into even more of a mystery when some new information from the abbey’s healer (and now medical examiner) comes to light. Then no sooner do they think they have that one solved when another novice is also found dead, with her throat neatly cut. Do they have a serial killer on their hands?

The story was complex enough to keep me interested, and I liked Sir Josse and Abbess Helewise- and liked how they worked together. The author has a good bit of knowledge as to the era she’s writing in, but.. the characters sometimes speak as if they belong to our time. While I don’t expect them to speak Middle English (heaven forbid), certain phrasings are just jolting. The book was a little light on characterization, but as this is the first of a series there is plenty of time to build on that (I think there is something like 15 in the series now). I did have to wonder about the ease with which nuns, and Sir Josse, came and went in the abbey. Were they really that open? Or did the right rules come later in time? I honestly don’t know. Anyway, an interesting, quick read. Four stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This in no way influenced my review.