After the traditional turkey coma, there’s nothing like a comfortable chair and a good book. For me, this week has been mainly about mysteries, all of very different kinds: a 1920s ghost story (or, rather, “ghost” story), a modern Scottish police procedural, and a Victorian with the suggestion of a paranormal element.
— Georgette Heyer’s Footsteps in the Dark, in which three siblings inherit a “haunted” house, and, in the company of their eccentric aunt, attempt to move in, despite the ghostly– or just ghastly?– phantom monk determined to roust them out. I wanted to love this book. An old abbey! Ghosts! Heyer! While it wasn’t bad, it felt like it fell uncomfortably between drawing room comedy, mystery, and ghost story, and never quite made up its mind which it wanted to be. I think, had I gone in thinking of it as a mystery rather than as a ghost story, I would have liked it much better.
— Peter May’s The Blackhouse, in which a policeman returns to his home island to solve the gruesome murder of a man who bullied him as a child and is forced to confront the suppressed remnants of his own past. If you like the darker sort of police procedural, this is for you. It’s brilliantly done, unraveling the pieces bit by bit as you get deeper into the hero’s tangled past, which turns out to be the key to the murder in the present. It’s also an evocative picture of island life in one of the more remote parts of Scotland.
— Barbara Michael’s The Wizard’s Daughter, in which an orphaned girl adrift in 1880s London is swept up by an eccentric duchess on the theory that the girl is the daughter of a missing medium and the inheritor of his psychic powers. This was never one of my favorite Barbara Michaels novels (it’s a bit too self-mocking), but re-reading it brought home to be me that there are times when even a lesser Barbara Michaels can be better than the best of anything else. There are so few people who write with such entirely engaging prose.
What have you been reading this week?