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Old 01-08-2012, 11:24 PM   #11973
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Just finished the 2nd of the 10 start-of-series mystery novels I bought from Poisoned Pen Press, who are still having the sale (only 99 cents each! and DRM-free!). They were both quite worth it, and I might as well comment on them together, though I did read some other books in between.

Priscilla Royal's Wine of Violence, 1st in the rather generically named "A Medieval Mystery" series was set at an English medieval abbey circa 1270 or thereabouts.

Long story short: the incoming prioress who's gotten her post as a political favour has to solve a murder which happened in a tightly-knit religious community which is none-too-welcoming to the newbie, and navigate the landmine field of figuring which one of her charges is the killer while not compromising her own precarious position by pushing long-held interpersonal tensions too far.

This was mildly unusual and pleasantly distinguished by having not simply the sole amateur sleuth viewpoint of Prioress Eleanor, but also alternates hers with that of Brother Thomas, a monk with an untidy past who himself has been sent to the abbey for mysteriously hinted reasons we'll no doubt find out about in further books.

Somewhat refreshingly, they don't immediately team up (together, they fight crime! maybe later). Neither is particularly honest with each other and they both hide things and evade, although they are individually committed to finding out whodun the murder, at least.

Historically, this was nicely grounded; not so much in the details of who/what/when/where, but in setting and flavour. The author puts in a nice, medium-lengthy explanatory note about reality-vs-popular-conception in several religious community practices and general medieval attitudes which the casual Gentle Reader might have found surprising, and includes a brief bibliography of suggested further reading in the back. I love it when books include that.

Characters were also well-drawn and there was a good variety of types amongst them, despite being nearly all nuns and monks. And they seemed to have reasonably decent in-character theological discussions about issues raised during the course of the murder investigation, as well. And period-fitting justifications for the more modernized-sensibilities in-story practices such as hand-washing after handling corpses before turning to the next set of patients.

I appreciate when authors at least try to come up with plausible excuses, instead of just sticking in stuff wholesale because that's how they want their characters to do it.

Highly recommended as a good start to what looks like a promising series which you can try at a dirt-cheap price. And it looks like some of the following books are < $5 and coupon-discountable at Kobo as well, though of course I hope Poisoned Pen Press will offer a few more at direct bargain pricing, since they have theirs DRM-free.

Not-quite-next was another closed religious community murder investigation, set in more modern times.

Betty Webb's Desert Wives is apparently 2nd in the "Lena Jones" ex-cop turned PI series, but it was a very strong "start", perhaps better than the actual 1st book might have been.

Long story short: Lena Jones was hired to rescue an underaged girl from being "married" to the elderly leader of one of those Mormon-offshoot sect polygamous compounds, and when said leader turns up murdered around the time of said rescue, the girl's mother is held to blame and Lena must investigate further to clear her name, with the threat of the daughter being returned to the compound to "marry" again by her estranged father.

This, quite frankly, was a really depressing read, because just when you think the author had been exaggerating or outright making things up for fictional effect (as Arthur Conan Doyle was apparently accused of doing when he wrote A Study in Scarlet), no, it turns out that pretty much everything she writes about as happening or having happened on the compound has in fact happened in real life among one or other of the real life Mormon-offshoot polygamous compounds; just not all at once.


Well, except for the murders. And she backs it up with specific cites from newspaper articles covering the various more-recent incidents so you can google and be even more depressed.

Aside from that, this was a fairly engaging thriller of an investigation, with an intriguing (albeit depressing and occasionally rage-inducing) depiction of life in a tightly-controlled closed compound where the atmosphere is tense and poisonous not only from the cult-like insularity, but also from the long-running stresses arising from interfamilial feuds and buried community secrets.

It did seem to go on a bit too much about the orphaned Lena's mysterious trauma-blocked past at times, but I suppose that's part of her overall character arc which will be dealt with over the course of the series.

But the main characters were overall fairly engaging and reasonably competent (though still prone to in-character screwups) and seemed to have a good sense of humour where they could find something to be cheerful about. And the actual whodunnit, while unexpected and mildly surprising (at least for me; I'm moderately bad at figuring these things out and it's a good sign when the amateur sleuth can outsleuth me, unless the culprit seems completely picked at random), fit perfectly well with what had been established and shown in the community.

Strong recommendation if you think you've got the stomach for what amounts to "one small victory in an overwhelming sea of fail". It was a pretty good story and fairly well-written and I liked it enough that I'm willing to go library-look-up the rest of the series, though it's not at the "auto-buy-more-volumes when on discount-sale at reasonable prices" point like the Priscilla Royal series is.

But it can be a rather frustrating slog of a read, considering you know that the case is basically ripped from the headlines about a problem that is still ongoing that people just aren't doing much about.

I'm certainly a lot more and about the Mormon-offshoot sect polygamous compound we have right here in BC, who are apparently Cold War immigrants from the US closely affiliated with vintage SoCreds, a basically neo-liberal/neo-con local political party whose name has been mud for decades now (albeit for other reasons), and I wasn't too pleased about them to begin with. But at least our court system and our media isn't cutting them much slack on the stuff they've been trying to pull.

Last edited by ATDrake; 01-08-2012 at 11:41 PM. Reason: Great, we've got home grown nutters falling not that far from the tree overhanging the border.
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