Books I read in May and June 2020

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Cuckoo’s Calling
By Robert Galbraith

I see why J.K. Rowling took a pen name to publish this book!

This is a standard PI novel, complete with F-bombs. I liked the opening, and my first thought was yeah, she really can write. The middle was good, and I got impatient for the reveal toward the end.
Supermodel Lula Landry committed suicide by diving off the balcony of her luxury apartment. Or did she?

Her brother, John Bristow, doesn’t believe the conclusion the police come to when they close this case, and so he hires Cormoran Strike, private detective, to investigate the situation and find out who killed her. The connection is that Bristow’s brother, Charlie, and Strike were friends as children, so Bristow trusts Strike to do a good job.

Strike can certainly use the money. Not only doesn’t he have another client, he’s broken up with Charlotte, his long-time girlfriend, and had to move out of her luxury home and set up a cot in his office, eating Pot Noodles, which from the description I assume are like ramen, because he owes money everywhere.

In the end, the book wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either. I didn’t figure out who the killer was, so that’s a plus. The explanation of one disguised clue was, to me, unbelievable. I definitely liked his secretary, Robin. I assume there will be a romance in the future, despite the fact that Robin’s engaged.
I’ll have to read the second book in the series to decide on whether to continue reading these books.

The Case of the Substitute Face
By Erle Stanley Gardner

Yeah, some Perry Mason titles are a little weird. I understand the ones where the pattern of alliteration might have forced a peculiar combination, but that’s not the case with this one. To get the explanation of this title out of the way, the client’s daughter, who is kind of the client also, bears a strong resemblance to a popular movie star. The daughter delights in this resemblance and has gone so far as to get a publicity photo of the actress, then have a photograph of herself taken with with her hair arranged in the same way, wearing a similar gown, and in the identical pose. At one point in the mystery, the daughter’s photo is removed from a frame and the actress’s substituted. Thus the Substitute Face.

Perry and Della are returning from a vacation in Hawaii on a cruise ship. Following the morals of the time, Perry has his own cabin while Della is sharing a cabin with another female passenger whom she’s never met before. (There’s no explanation of how this was arranged, so I have to assume it was a common practice in the 1930s.) This enables Della to meet and talk with a number of the characters that Perry doesn’t have access to.

The murder happens early on in this book, with the wife of the victim suspected of shooting her husband, then pushing him overboard in a storm. It turns out the husband had been suspected of embezzlement from his former employer, and the wife is concerned for the reputation and marriage prospects of her daughter. The husband claimed to have won a lottery, which is why he suddenly changed their last name, quit his job, and took off on a trip to Hawaii.

The plot is complicated, with several surprises along the way, which makes for a very satisfying mystery. I can definitely recommend this book in the Perry Mason annals.

The Haberdasher’s Wife
By Scott R. Rezer

First a confession: I know the author from many years in Facebook writers groups. This is the first book of his I’ve read, though, since I haven’t been a fan of historical fiction in the past. Because I know he writes “real” historical fiction and this new release sounded intriguing, I pre-ordered the book to compare it to what I was writing.

My first comment is: leave it to a man to not realize he’s written a romance novel. LOL 
Okay, it doesn’t follow all the romance tropes. For example, the story is only told from the viewpoint of the female character, Maria Johanna Ludovika Eleanora von Bandel, commonly called Josefa, rather than both the male and female characters. The hero doesn’t arrive until more than halfway through the book. The author also leaves out what I think is a scene important to romance readers, just giving a brief mention later on that it happened.

But never mind all that. This is a beautiful emotional story of a woman of the lower nobility who dallies with a playboy (I’m not sure what a playboy would be called in the late eighteenth century) and finds herself with child. Of course, the cad denies the child is his, and Josefa faces some hard choices.

In those days, it was common for women who were pregnant with an illegitimate child to be sent away until after the baby was born. Since Josefa is Catholic, the place she chooses to go is a convent. At this point in the story, she’s Catholic in name only, attending church when she must, praying but frequently getting distracted by the art and architecture inside the buildings. Her father, who died three months after she was born, was a strong supporter of the church, both financially and spiritually. Her mother is also very devout. They provide a vivid contrast to the heroine.

While she is in the convent, a group of refugees from the Napoleonic Wars arrives and asks for shelter. The leader, whose name is Josef, is a tall, quiet man with a warm heart. The two are drawn to one another immediately. Of course, the path of true love never did run smooth, and these two face their share of obstacles.

Scott Rezer has a wonderful grasp of description and narrative, with vivid language that brings every scene to life. The characters are memorable and each is unique. I don’t want to say too much more about the story because I don’t want to spoil it for any future readers, but I was delighted to discover this novel about faith and love and how lives can change in ways we never imagined.

Buy The Haberdasher's Wife

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A Clash of Kings
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