I read three books in a row last week that would be shelved in the mystery section of the bookstore, but they were more novels of suspense than traditional whodunits. They had little in common, in terms of plot and setting, but they were all three great fun to read.
A River in the Sky, Elizabeth Peters
Published in 2010, this is Elizabeth Peters' last book. It features her most popular characters, Amelia Peabody and her husband Radcliffe Emerson, as well as the usual supporting cast of their son Ramses and adopted daughter Nefret, their young friend David, the inquisitive butler Gargery, and Egyptian assistants Daoud and Selim. Unusually for a Peters book, though, there is only one cat, who makes just a single cameo appearance. The setting is also unusual: rather than working in Egypt, the Emersons are drawn to Palestine, where Ramses is already working on a dig in Samaria. Since Emerson has been banned from excavating in Egypt, he and Amelia are at something of a loose end when they are approached by a Major Morley, who claims to have an ancient scroll that reveals the location of the lost Ark of the Covenant. He intends to travel to Jerusalem and find it (the theme song from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" immediately began playing in my head). Though Emerson all but throws him bodily out, at the request of His Majesty's government he later agrees to follow Morley to Palestine and keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, Ramses stumbles upon evidence that the German government might be trying to stir up trouble for the British in the area. I thought this was a really fun read, with Amelia in particularly fine form. Though the last book written, it is set earlier in the series, in 1911. Elizabeth Peters had begun filling in some of the gap years with her last books (as Laurie R. King is doing with her next Russell and Holmes book). This one is set just before the big Romantic Drama with Ramses and Nefret takes center stage - a storyline I find a bit tedious, while fully appreciating Ramses as the Romantic Hero. I'm glad there were only hints of it here. I still have one more of the Emerson books to read, Guardian of the Horizon. I've been putting it off because it's a return to the setting of The Last Camel Died at Noon, Peters' homage to H. Rider Haggard, which with all due respect to one of my favorite authors, I find a little silly.
To Dwell in Darkness, Deborah Crombie
It has been a long nineteen months since Deborah Crombie left us with an awful cliff-hanger on the last page of The Sound of Broken Glass. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak last Friday at Murder by the Book. I had just finished this new one earlier in the day, in case she left us hanging like that again. Which she does, but I found the ending here less frustrating. (Ms. Crombie seemed disappointed when I told her that.) This story revolves around London's St Pancras Station (in her talk, Ms. Crombie mentioned that she is having a love affair with Victorian architecture). Duncan Kincaid, formerly of Scotland Yard, has been transferred and effectively demoted, without explanation, to head a murder investigation team out of Holborn Police Station. When a group of eco-protesters, intending to set off a smoke bomb in St Pancras, instead sets off a white-phosphorous bomb, killing the young man holding it, the case lands on Duncan's desk. As he and his team investigate, they find that the protest group is not exactly what it seems, particularly one member, who in the wake of the incident has disappeared. Meanwhile, Duncan's former sergeant Gemma, now his wife and an officer herself, is tracking a young woman's killer. But her own sergeant, Melody Talbot, who was present when the bomb went off, is drawn more into helping Duncan with his case. Here also I enjoyed meeting these characters again, they feel like old friends. While Gemma's case is a traditional police procedural, Duncan's felt more like a thriller, and with the terrorist element, very much of the moment. It also links to the previous two stories in intriguing and rather disturbing ways. On the other hand, the book does feature a litter of adorable kittens (though at one point, I was distinctly uneasy about their fate). I really hope it won't be eighteen months before the next book.
The Traveller Returns, Patricia Wentworth
How appropriate that my Hodder re-print of this book has a quote from Mary Stewart, though "Very well written" isn't the most exciting blurb. Reading this, I was instantly reminded of The Ivy Tree. The book opens with Anne Jocelyn returning to England in mid-1944. Everyone thought she was dead, shot on a beach in Brittany as her husband Philip tried to rescue her by boat from the advancing Nazis. Philip brought the body of his wife home and buried her. Now Anne arrives, insisting that in the confusion of the evacuation he made a mistake: it was her cousin Annie Joyce who was shot, while she was left behind to face the Germans. Her cousin Lyndall and Aunt Milly stifle their doubts and welcome her home. Philip however refuses to accept her. I admit, in the first three chapters, I changed my mind about Anne four times. I wasn't the only one, though an old friend of Annie Joyce is sure that she would know the difference between the two. That old friend, Nellie Collins, meets Miss Maud Silver on a train up to London, and tells her the whole story. When Miss Collins is later found dead from an apparent road accident, Miss Silver calls the police. Meanwhile, Lyndall follows Anne into a beauty shop and overhears some very disturbing words, which she eventually brings to Miss Silver. Ensconced in her cozy sitting room with her knitting, Miss Silver still manages to stay one step ahead of the police, though the plodding Chief Detective Lamb ignores her suggestions and scoffs at her deductions - until she is proved right, and then he claims all the credit. His sergeant Frank Abbott, an old friend of Miss Silver's, is smarter than his boss and will probably go further. So far I've read three books with Miss Silver, all set during the Second World War. By my count, there are twenty-four more, and I can easily see myself collecting them all (I already have two more on the TBR stacks). They may tend toward the cozy side, but Miss Silver is one tough cookie, and those who do evil tend to get what is coming to them. She sees herself as an agent for justice, "which she would certainly have spelt with a capital letter." But she isn't self-righteous or pious about it, she just gets on with the job at hand.