If You Could Read My Mind: Four riveting novels feature in today's #IYCRMM. The first one is written in 18th century style but with a knowing wink at the reader of today. The next three are crime-fiction-related but differ from each other in scope and style.
'The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach' by Jas Treadwell
We all know it’s the 21st century but writing under the pseudonym of Jas Treadwell, our author literally transports us to the 18th century with this hugely entertaining picaresque. It recounts two months in the life of a certain Thomas Peach, a country gentleman who lives in practical seclusion in Somerset, England. It’s a tale full of puzzles, contradictions, and unnatural going-one’s, as Thomas leads what seems to be an unremarkable life, with a stable boy, a cook, and a female servant tending to his ailing wife, Eliza. But with no visible means of support other than an annuity from his uncle, tongues in the nearby village start wagging when the female servant insists that there is no Mrs. Peach in actuality.
It isn’t long before a series of misadventures take place, prompted by the appearance of Clarissa, a ward of the local squire, and Arabella, the poet daughter of said squire. With an African butler at her side—the first black man seen in the locality—Arabella makes for one intriguing character indeed. But even she is eclipsed by Clarissa and the extreme strangeness that surrounds her, as she survives by consuming ink and paper. A pastiche of the novels of the time, such as those written by Henry Fielding and Lawrence Sterne, this novel captivates, written in the language and style of the 18th century, while also daring to be very much of today, with its naughty constant breaking of the fourth wall. It may take some effort to enter this world-building, but is so worth it.
'A Line to Kill' by Anthony Horowitz
This is the third in the series that Anthony Horowitz has created with a kind of wit and panache unseen in most other writers. Going meta, he inserts himself in the novels as a crime fiction writer who decides to follow a disgraced former police officer, and now private detective, named Hawthorne. By shadowing him, Horowitz aims to create his novels, loosely based on the cases that Hawthorne will solve with the fictionist tagging along. It has worked wonderfully over the first two novels and this third has an amusing premise: The unlikely duo heads to a literary festival in order to promote their first book. The sense of location is excellently executed as the festival is held at Alderney, one of the Channel islands. And, of course, it doesn’t take long before a murder takes place.
Occupied by the Nazis during the war, there’s now a planned power line that desecrates the existing war cemetery on Alderney. So the inhabitants of the island are sharply divided—progress and revenues, or tradition and respect for an established way of life. When the wealthy sponsor of the festival, who owns an online gambling concern, is brutally murdered in his own home, all the invited writers become suspects, along with those who live on the island. The visiting authors have dark secrets and it’s up to Hawthorne and Horowitz to unravel them. Horowitz has a great sense of plotting, of reveals, and of combining deduction with profiling. He’s been commissioned in the past to write both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels, and was awarded the OBE for services to literature in 2014. So we’re in very sure hands, proven by how this book is such a delightful read.
'A Corruption of Blood' by Ambrose Parry
Ambrose Parry is the nom de plume used by the husband and wife writing team of Christopher Brookmyre and consultant anesthetist Dr. Marisa Haetzman. With her History of Medicine degree, Haetzman was taken by the gory details she became quite familiar with in her studies, and celebrated crime fiction novelist Brookmyre thought it would be a great idea to collaborate on novels set in 1850’s Victorian Edinburgh. The first two in the series were met with acclaim, nominated for the McIlvaney Prize for Best Scottish Crime novel. This third installment will make you appreciate why critics heap these books with such praise. Densely plotted, filled with figures from the history of medicine, yet succeeding as a crime mystery novel—there’s much to learn, absorb, and enjoy.
What sets the books apart is the creation of two protagonists we readily invest in. There’s Dr. Will Raven, assistant to the true-to-life Dr. James Young Simpson, credited with the discovery and use of chloroform. Then there’s Sarah Fisher, aiming forward a degree in Medicine when women were excluded and when only an American woman named Blackwell had earned that distinction. Mixed into the plot strands in this book are unwanted pregnancies, the duplicitous laws of the time regarding unwed pregnant women, and how the product of these pregnancies were often dealt with. There’s also a yawning class divide, featuring Edinburgh high society and the hypocrisy and double standards that were part of the social fabric of the era. Wonderful series!
'The Final Girl Support Group' by Grady Hendrix
Grady Hendrix continues his streak with this entertaining horror-adventure-crime mash-up, and its premise is a sparkling one. In horror films, the so-called "final girl" is the one left standing at the end of the film. Bloodied and exhausted, she’s the lone survivor, the one who somehow managed to dispatch the lunatic, the serial killer, or the evil creatures. So what Hendrix conjures up is a regular support group meeting of final girls from real-crime scenarios—those who served as inspirations for the slasher film genre that makes millions of dollars at the box office. But he reimagines them as vulnerable, paranoid women who have extreme difficulties adjusting to regular life after the horrific ordeals they suffered.
Then he injects an intriguing notion: What if there was someone out there thinking that murdering all these final girls would guarantee them notoriety, perhaps book and movie deals, and certainly instant fame? The girls meet regularly with a therapist but there is something sinister at play, as they have all become walking targets. Lynette Tarkington survived a massacre 22 years ago, where she lost her family and boyfriend. Now she’s the lead protagonist in a race against time to figure out who is behind this new rampage targeting final girls like her. Mixed with satire and humor, this novel pays homage to the slasher film genre, while creating protagonists who live and breathe but damaged and on the edge of psychosis. Then there’s the nod to the public who reveres the demented killers, with some even collecting memorabilia of these massacres. A gripping, white-knuckled read, indeed.