Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle

Murder by Misrule
by Anna Castle
Release Date: June 8th, 2014
2014 by Anna Castle
Ebook Edition; 350 Pages
ISBN: 978-0991602506
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Francis Bacon is charged with investigating the murder of a fellow barrister at Gray's Inn. He recruits his unwanted protégé Thomas Clarady to do the tiresome legwork. The son of a privateer, Clarady will do anything to climb the Elizabethan social ladder. Bacon's powerful uncle Lord Burghley suspects Catholic conspirators of the crime, but other motives quickly emerge. Rival barristers contend for the murdered man's legal honors and wealthy clients. Highly-placed courtiers are implicated as the investigation reaches from Whitehall to the London streets. Bacon does the thinking; Clarady does the fencing. Everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve. Even the brilliant Francis Bacon is at a loss — and in danger — until he sees through the disguises of the season of Misrule.

My Thoughts
Murder by Misrule looks to be the first book in a new series featuring Francis Bacon, an influential philosopher, statesman, and author.  I have long been a fan of Bacon, who is known for his empirical method and his planned procedures for investigations.  I was drawn to this book as I was curious to see what an author would do with a character such as Bacon.

To begin with, I found the descriptions of this time period to be quite vivid and interesting.  I was drawn into the story immediately and felt a keen sympathy for Bacon right from the beginning.  The author definitely has a soft spot for this character and you can tell in her writing, something which makes the reader feel sympathy and empathy for him as well.  He can be arrogant though, and he definitely possesses a bit of that spoiled attitude we tend to see in the nobility, that whininess that comes when you are not immediately served or have to wait for something.  I found it intriguing as I liked how Ms. Castle tended to portray the lives of the nobility and I found her descriptions at court quite perceptive.  

The other characters were interesting as well; I took a particular liking to Trumpet and I found out why towards the end.  I am hoping Tom Clarady will grow into his character in the next book as he was rather annoying; there were times when I wished that Ms. Castle had actually written the book without him in it.  And the constant bickering between spoiled Stephen and Tom began to get on my nerves, so enough already.  I'm sure Stephen has his reasons for suddenly behaving the way that he did, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why in this novel, and it definitely wasn't explained.  A rather little annoying side-story that either could have been eliminated or develops so we know what is going on.  I understand the element of the prickly dynamic that exists between two people who are from different social classes, and the conflicts that may erupt between them as they try to figure out their roles within those social classes, but it just seemed like it didn't quite fit into the story very well.  And having Francis watching it all with those knowing eyes kind of convoluted everything.  Don't get me wrong, some of it was fun, but some of it was eye-rolling too.  Bacon wasn't exactly at the top of the accepted list during this time either, having been banned from court for his philosophical views, and investigating crimes wasn't exactly the way back to the Queen's heart, but who was he to refuse a direct order?  Francis' contemplations about his problems, and whether anyone else was paying attention to him, was probably at the heart of the book for me.

Having stumbled across a dead body on Queen's Day came as a complete shock to Bacon, and he was tasked with finding the killer of the lawyer by none other than his uncle Lord Burghley.  He recruits the boys to help him with tasks that he has difficulty performing and the boys' antics add a liveliness to the storyline.  I've already mentioned that I wasn't overly crazy over Tom, and his constant romantic outpourings over a woman he met once, and who was a witness to the murder, were rather annoying.  I'm not even sure that Clara had more sense than Tom, but she did tend to resist him for a while longer, even being dragged into the whole sordid mess herself.  I don't think the mystery was that challenging, and I did figure it out, although I did change my mind once or twice before coming to the conclusion I did.  I did appreciate Bacon's inductive method of investigation though, especially as it's what he's historically known for; it lends a rather nice touch.

Murder by Misrule was an interesting foray into the life of Francis Bacon, one which I enjoyed quite a bit.  I liked the various characters and thought they were quite fun, each adding their own touch to the story.  I did have problems accepting Tom, but I'm hoping his character will develop and mature in upcoming books as he could be rather annoying.  I liked the dynamics at Gray's Inn as well as the interactions between the characters, including the political dynamics, and liked learning more about the court of law during this time period.  The jabs and humour were fun and made the various characters come alive.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Death by Disputation, when it is released later this year.   
Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: Death on Blackheath by Anne Perry

Death on Blackheath (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, Book #29)
by Anne Perry
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
2014 Ballantine Books
Hardcover Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0345548382
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

As commander of the powerful Special Branch, Thomas Pitt has the job of keeping Britain safe from spies and traitors. So there’s no obvious reason why he is suddenly ordered to investigate two minor incidents: the blood, hair, and shards of glass discovered outside the home of naval weapons expert Dudley Kynaston, and the simultaneous disappearance of Mrs. Kynaston’s beautiful lady’s maid.

But weeks later, when the mutilated body of an unidentified young woman is found near Kynaston’s home, Pitt realizes that this is no ordinary police investigation. Far from it. Is Kynaston—one of Britain’s most valuable scientists—leading a double life? Is Pitt saddled with a conspiracy so devilishly clever that it will ruin him?

My Thoughts
Death on Blackheath is the latest in the long-running series featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt.  I have been of Anne Perry for a very long time now, and have read every single book that she has written.  The Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series and the William Monk series feature some of my favourite books and I have enjoyed immersing myself in the time periods that she writes with such flair.  And while I definitely enjoyed this latest offering featuring Charlotte and Thomas, and was very interested in the issues that developed throughout the novel, it is not my favourite one of the series as I found the mystery portion to be lacking in development and a bit boring.

As always, Ms. Perry seems to understand the world in which Charlotte and Thomas live and her research comes through very well in the triumphs and frustrations of her characters.  This has always been one of the things that has drawn me to these novels over and over again; Ms. Perry is able to highlight many of the issues of the Victorian Era so well and things haven't always gone well for the various characters over the years.  Lately, she has been focusing on the women and their frustrations to the limitations imposed on them; in this one we see a bored and frustrated Emily trying to be more and do more than just be an ornament on her husband's arm, we learn more about how frustrated even Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould has been over the years through different discussions, and even Charlotte is getting bored as she can't help Thomas with his 'secret' cases any more.  And what happens to a woman whose beauty is beginning to fade in society's eyes and is looking to be a more meaningful contributor?  And what happens to a woman who is searching for her identity?  All of these questions and more were discussed and tossed about and I found them fascinating, especially as no real answers were forthcoming.  What I found particularly interesting was Lady Vespasia's discussion on owning real-estate (even though I already know about it), but it was her take on the matter I found fascinating; it is not too often we see her frustrated at society and its limitations as with her great wealth and influence she has had it better than most women.  The discussions over women and how they can contribute to society, despite the limitations, was definitely a highlight for me.  Even Thomas had a contribution to the discussion as he often found himself reminiscing over his daughter and how she would fit into a society that doesn't really appreciate women the same way as men, and how he could help her grow into a confident woman, with more options available to her.  

So, where did I have difficulty with this novel?  The mystery, of course.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between the characters, and the difficulties each character was experiencing in their personal and professional lives, this is a mystery novel, and this is where it fell flat for me.  To be thoroughly honest, I actually thought the premise was a bit absurd, and how it would involve Pitt, as head of Special Branch, I didn't really buy it.  It just felt like the author was asking too much of her authors to forgive her for involving Pitt in the way that she did, and swallow up the reasons as nonsensical.  Not me.  What I did find interesting is the political convolutions and games that are being played out on the big boys' floor; in particular, how Pitt was being given information on a need to know basis and how frustrating this would be for someone in charge of defence of one's country.  We are at that point in time when the whole Arms Race is happening, leading to World War I in roughly twenty years, and there was a lot of stuff happening around the world, and you would think that your head of Special Branch would be let in on a few things.  I get that some things should not be revealed to the public at that time due to panic, but I thought it was just a bit too much in this novel.  The mystery was not such a great mystery in my eyes, although if you are not a history afficionado, and don't know anything about the arms race, and about the political situation in the United Kingdom during this time period, you might miss it.  

Death on Blackheath is the latest entry in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series.  While not my favourite of the series, there are some interesting social elements to it, as there are to any of Ms. Perry's novels.  Although I did enjoy the interactions between the various recurring characters and their problems, I wasn't overly keen on the mystery and Pitt's involvement with the issue, especially in the beginning.  It's only inevitable that characters change and develop, so I am curious as to where and what Ms. Perry intends to do next with this series, especially as the ending was a bit different than usual, so I will more than likely pick up the next entry in this series.  Will we see more international involvement and bigger things?  I certainly hope so.