October seems to be flying by – suddenly, the weather is cool enough for sweaters most days, the electricity bill is FINALLY declining, and we are seeing ghosts and pumpkins everywhere. The October Vibe is always welcome – I love the early part of the end of the year, which is both more macabre and somehow less melancholy than the upcoming holiday season.
I often try to read something vaguely spooky for October – but rarely do I get it just right. Two years ago, I spent October reading Stephen Graham Jones and John Darnielle novels, and that came pretty close to matching the vibe (although John Darnielle is more moody than spooky). This year, I landed on more of a cozy, British mystery vibe, which suits pretty well. I have one or two books left in the TBR that I loaded up my library request list with back in September in preparation for the season, but as I rearrange my TBR pile to accommodate library requests I think I’ll actually just end up with a few surprise creepy book scattered through the end of the year.
Without further ado, the books! After much recommendation, I finally picked up Still Life, the first of the Three Pines novels by Louise Penny. Next, I read Tuesday Mooney Talks To Ghosts by Kate Racculia. Then I rounded it out with Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Honestly, reading these three novels back to back, it gets a bit tricky sorting out each plot in my mind. The British stories meld together into a pleasant, tea-drinking conglomerate.
First up – Louise Penny, Still Life, the first of the Inspector Gamache series. So many people have recommended this series, this author, these books – it felt like a good time of year to give them a try. I’d say this novel was a 4/5 for me – it was indeed a perfectly cozy, well written mystery! My cover describes it as “cerebral, wise and compassionate” – those seem mostly accurate, but I think what I hoped was maybe a tiny bit more literary? Anyway, it was very much like reading an Agatha Christie novel, which I loved doing as a child.
Do you need to know the plot? It’s what you might expect from a mystery – an elderly woman dies in a sleepy town that doesn’t have much in the way of crime. I think of this novel as relatively British but actually it’s set in Canada, and there are interesting socio-political undertones of British versus French contrasting influences among the characters. Inspector Gamache is a well known detective who you know will always be far more clever than the killer. The first few chapters establish a cast of characters whose lives intersect in so many ways. Of course Gamache identifies the killer, and it’s both obvious and a delightful surprise in the final act. The characters are both more and less than what we believe they might be. You don’t need a review of this one, do you? If your friends have told you about Louise Penny, you should probably just go and check out her novels. I’m going to request the next few books in the series, because they are entertaining. This wasn’t anything that surprised me, but it was very good.
Next was Magpie Murders, and this one takes the cozy mystery to metatextual places, which I quite appreciated. I went ahead and put all of his books on my library queue, if that tells you how I felt about this novel. The conceit here is that an editor, Susan Ryeland, reads what is the final mystery of author Alan Conway – the titular novel-within-the-novel. Conway has been a thorn in Ryeland’s side throughout the process of publishing his incredibly popular Atticus Pund series. After receiving her copy of Magpie Murders, she learns that Alan Conway has died – you guessed it, under suspicious circumstances. Conway was a lover of puzzles, and several are baked into the novels he has written.
The plot itself isn’t necessarily surprising, but then again, in an ironic way I think what I like most about mysteries is actually their relative dependability. This one had the benefit of being essentially two mysteries in one – the novel within the novel, which gives Horowitz a chance to showcase his writing talent, giving voice to multiple distinct writing styles.
My book club is currently reading Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, and if we were slightly more together we probably should have held our meeting this past Friday – the third Friday in October. This is the perfect Halloween-season read, as October features prominently. It’s not at all scary, and only slightly mysterious. The ending brings together a variety of characters in a pleasing way. The reason I picked it up at all was because someone mentioned on a different book-blog that this book was quite a bit like The Westing Game all grown up, and I’ll read anything to capture the feeling of reading that book again. After reading, I can concur that the vibe of this book feels very similar, but for me it didn’t quite hit the same emotional resonance as The Westing Game. Maybe that’s a bar too high for any book to reach. Or maybe I’m just not as sympathetic to the concept of a supremely wealthy person forcing a bunch of regular / slightly poor people to play a series of games to win a chance to be way less rich than he ever was?
Tuesday is a very cool, slightly socially removed woman in her early thirties. Through her job (which is essentially to find details about potential donors for a hospital-adjacent non-profit) she attends a gala, where she does more than raise the possibility for fundraising. The night of the gala, Vincent Pryce, an eccentric billionaire, dies on the spot, shortly after Tuesday has made the acquaintance of Nathaniel Arches. The next day, the papers are full not only of the news of Pryce’s dramatic death – it is also announced that Pryce has established a giant scavenger hunt that leads to the potential to share in his immense riches. Tuesday gets roped into this hunt (her top notch detective skills, along with her emo-girl vibes, make her an attractive partner for the extremely wealthy Arches).
The story twists in certain places, revealing some plot twists that are well anticipated and others that are genuine surprises. Of course there are more connections among characters than it would be fair to recount in a review.
The book is not nearly as deep as you might want it to be (or as I suspect it was meant to be). It’s entertaining, if a little pat. There’s a lot of different elements here – a little grief, angst, romance, friendship, etc, etc, etc. Some plot points feel interesting (an argument between friends comes to mind) but nothing feels very new or nuanced. Definitely okay for the season! But not something that will leave a deep impact.