Saturday, September 22, 2018

A peek into 1785 with a magical twist (Hermes Gower's The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock) and A modern detective tale with a fun twist (Horowitz's The Word is Murder)

I'd intended to catch up while on plus a few staycation days...but managed to get sick and needed as much rest as possible.   So...let's catch up on a couple...

It is 1785. Merchant Jonah Hancock is more than a bit shocked when a sailor returns with the news that he traded Mr. H's ship for a mermaid. The creature...which, while a stark contrast from the mermaid that the word brings to most minds, is largely an aside in this story that doesn't really qualify as magical realism...turns his well-settled life as a childless widower upside down. He is uncertain about how to proceed, though in time the mermaid does become the talk of the town.

Along the way, he meets Angelica. She is one of the other characters who shares the spotlight. Angelica is, in he latter half of her 20s, a courtesan past her prime. The woman who runs the upscale brothel where Angelica used to live takes the protagonist's spotlight in other chapters. We see the strict hand with which she governs and the way she works to develop her young protegees develop into courtesans catering to a certain class.

The prose was quite lovely. The author can draw some very vivid scenes and bring you into her setting. Not surprisingly, there is some sexual content and some that can only be crude (the madam urinating in a carriage pot)...if that bothers you, steer clear. I was surprised by how interesting I found the portions detailing the young women's training, which centers on giving them the education, musical talents, and manners to entertain clients (the latter part of their duties seem to be largely learned on the job...).

While I read for characters far more than plot, I kept waiting for more to happen. I wasn't invested in the characters enough to be pulled along on that alone. The ending was far from satisfying...I don't need things wrapped in a box and a bow, this book seemed to try to do that but somehow failed. I can't quite put my finger on why.

So, let's say 2.5-3 stars. The language is lyrical, some of the subplots fascinating (particularly the story of one of the young courtesans, but that felt somewhat like a short story tossed into the novel and it deserved more).  Man thanks to the publisher for the advance copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

I don't read a lot of detective fiction, but every once in a while one I feel the urge. The publisher offered me the opportunity to receive an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and this seemed like a good chance to scratch the itch.

Diana Cowper plans her own funeral. And is promptly murdered. Private detective Hawthorne is on the case. And following along is Anthony Horowitz (here it is worth glancing back at the name of the author) who has written some hit young adult books and consulted on television shows (why, yes, so has the book's author). While he should be focusing on a movie deal, Hawthorne has offered him the chance to tag along and eventually pen a novel about the world of detectives and murder (profits to be split, naturally). He gets pulled in, as does the reader, by the Cowper case which takes many an odd turn...a bit of a checkered past, a very famous son, involvement in elite charities and the characters that follow...and has many unexpected details. Lots of references to Sherlock Holmes (Horowitz, the real one, has been given the honor of penning a new Holmes tome) and Agatha Christie novels among my fellow reviewers. 

This was fun to read. And had to be a heck of a lot of fun to write. I didn't see the ending coming until quite late in the game and I'd be sorta curious to reread it now that I know where it is headed. A nice diversion, a great beach read style book -- I didn't read it on a beach, but often think of books in terms of where they are best read..some require the focus of my sunroom, others can handle the interruptions of an airplane, others fit the feel of vacation when you aren't looking for something serious but still want to be drawn in and travel into the tale. Enjoyed the London setting...unobtrusive, as befits the novel, but a good backdrop. 

4 stars. Great choice to satisfy my detective itch.