Review: The Mysterious Mr. Quin

The Mysterious Mr. Quin
The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #45 for 2016

I finished reading this during Fort Collins Comic Con, so when the food truck vendor asked me to name the first fictional character to pop into my head (to call when my order was ready), I responded, “Harley Quin.” She was pleased with my choice. It took me a minute to realize that we were thinking of very different characters.

Christie’s Quin is one of my favorite characters, so much so that I’ve even written stories with my own harlequinesque character, Hallelujah Kwin. (Only one of them, “The Scrap in the Quarry,” has seen print so far.) Quin never got his own novel, but that’s one of the things that I love about him: Christie refused to force him into being and wrote Quin stories only when she felt moved to do so. Quin gets to remain delightfully mysterious and vaguely supernatural.

I read this as part of the Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge, so I made some attempt to read them in publication order. However, a few were clearly published out of the stories’ logical order, and then several of the stories first appeared in this collection. I don’t agree completely with the order Elena Santangelo suggested in Dame Agatha’s Shorts, but what I’ve worked out below is sort of a combination of her order and publication order.

“The Coming of Mr Quin” is apparently the first Quin story, and it is one of the best for showing how Quin works as Mr Satterthwaite’s investigative catalyst. I think it also demonstrates the “daughter of time” effect far better than the Josephine Tey novel of that name.

Then skip ahead to “At the Bells and Motley,” which seems very clearly to me to be the second Quin story. It’s another tale of clarity from a later perspective.

For the third Quin story, you need to find an anthology that contains “Love Detectives.” Check Three Blind Mice and Other Stories or Problem at Pollensa Bay.

Then you can come back to this collection for “The Sign in the Sky.” It’s a clever little puzzle, but it’s a shame Satterthwaite is a bit dense in this one.

Now you can go back to “The Shadow on the Glass,” a spooky tale that really stays with me. And then onto “The Soul of the Croupier,” a Monte Carlo romance; “The World’s End,” which provides an interesting setting and assortment of lovers and suspects; and “The Voice in the Dark,” probably the weakest entry with an ending I didn’t quite buy.

I read “Harlequin’s Lane” next, but after reading the four “new” stories, I have to agree with Elena that you should save it for last. So, “The Face of Helen” is a bit far-fetched but a great, timeless story. “The Dead Harlequin” is a nifty locked-room puzzle that demonstrates Christie’s fascination with the art world. “The Bird with the Broken Wing” felt a little disjointed (if you will pardon the phrasing) to me, but it’s certainly an interesting use of a Ouija board as a plot device. “The Man from the Sea” is almost pure romance, sweet but very dark. Then “Harlequin’s Lane” finishes off the volume with a mystical, tragic flourish.

There is a lot of tragedy in these pages, and if you are sensitive to scenarios of suicide, you might want to give this a pass, or at least approach it with caution. I get the impression Christie was drawn to this character when she was feeling particularly melancholic. The stories are also very 1920s in style and written while she was still quite young, so if you go into this expecting a standard detective story, you are apt to be disappointed. But if you are feeling broody or gothic, this might be just the thing.

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Review: Cat Pictures Please

Cat Pictures Please
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #44 for 2016

After reading this Hugo-winning story, I am not entirely certain that I am not an AI program. I mean, there’s a reason I own a t-shirt that says, “I failed the Turing test.” And I am eerily fluent in LOLspeak.

This story of one AI’s struggle for identity and purpose was funny and charming and put me in mind a little of Turing Hopper, the sleuth in You’ve Got Murder. But with more cat photos. I would recommend this to just about anybody, and it’s not like it takes a major investment of time or money to check it out. Enjoy!

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Review: The Girl With No Past

The Girl With No Past
The Girl With No Past by Kathryn Croft
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #43 for 2016

This was certainly a page-turner of a story, I’ll give it that. And I liked it quite a bit when I’d first finished it, but the more I’ve thought about it since, the more disappointed I’ve been. There are a lot of really good suspense/thriller elements going on here, but it feels like they were developed independently of the larger picture. I kind of wonder if Croft totally pantsed this straight through for NaNoWriMo one year and then edited it for publication without really revisiting the plot structure, because it doesn’t hang together all that well.

I can’t say much more than that without getting into spoiler territory, but I will tell you this much: Don’t bother trying to match up a motive and a villain while you’re reading this. It won’t make any sense until the big reveal because it verges on being random. And even then, when you get all the missing bits tossed at you, don’t think about them too awful hard, because they aren’t meant to withstand that kind of scrutiny.

I suppose I can also reveal that Leah does a lot of really stupid things. Maybe that was intentional, an attempt to show that after the traumatic incident, she quit maturing in some ways. I just can’t help but think that if Leah had just gone to her therapy sessions and, I don’t know, grown a frickin’ spine or something, none of this would have happened.

So, yeah, the story was problematic, but as you can see from the other reviews, there aren’t very many of us picking it apart like this. If you just want a quick-moving suspense novel about a woman being stalked because of teenage stupidity, and you aren’t inclined to analyze it overmuch, you could do a lot worse than this one.

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Review: Vermilion

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #41 for 2016
Old Firehouse Books Summer Reading Bingo Square: A book that is out of your comfort zone.
Habitica’s Legendary Book Club Modest Reading Challenge Task: A book that you own but have never read.

I really enjoyed this weird west adventure and its use of Chinese mythologies. There was some cool world-building with the whole psychopomp gig, and I liked a lot of the characters.

It’s a good thing I liked Lou because for a third-person narrative, we spent a lot of time in her head. The interiority got to be a bit much sometimes, especially when I was reminded very painfully just how uncertain, self-conscious, and yes, stupid 19-year-old girls can be. But I can see how this could be very useful to a lot of readers. I can see how, if steampunk/weird west is a genre new to them, they would appreciate not having to read between the lines so much. Me, I like having to puzzle out motivations and conflicts, but I realize that I may not be typical in that regard.

I’m still not sure what I thought of the bears and the sea lions. On one level, cool, talking bears! On another, though, is this really necessary? Well, I suppose so, if you’re going to negotiate treaties and such with them, but it still felt like a really odd way of manipulating the plot. I also thought some of the erotica flourishes were gratuitous. And what was with all the blushing? All through the book, you couldn’t go but a few pages without somebody blushing.

All in all, though, a fun and interesting read, and I expect I’ll read the next book in the series.

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Shaunesay’s First Challenge Hosting

One of my BookCrossing friends is hosting her first reading challenge! 

I already have a bunch of books picked out for other challenges through the end of the year, but I’m a sucker for challenges with bingo cards, so here I am! I think I will try for one bingo. That lands me smack dab in the middle of the Ursa Major challenge level. I’ve pored over the awards lists, and this is my tentative challenge list:

I also just posted a giveaway in the BookCrossing Forums. This is for two copies of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Please note that you must be both a BookCrosser and a registered challenge participant to enter the drawing.

This challenge promises to be a great time, and I hope to see you there!