Friday, January 22, 2016

What I Read in March 2015 Part III

What I Read in March 2015 Part III ...

After the Armistice Ball (Dandy Gilver, #1)After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gliver is bored now the war (WWI) is over, her husband safe and sound, and the children off at school. When she's invited to her friend Daisy's party, she hesitates. Like everyone else in post-war British Society, they're experiencing money troubles and it would be frightfully embarrassing if anyone knew. Daisy begs Dandy's support at the ball for her husband has invited some insurance company contacts she needs help dealing with them. Also invited to the ball are the Duffys: Cold and proud Lena, her silent husband Gregory and their daughters Clemence and Cara. It seems Daisy had an ulterior motive for inviting Dandy to the ball. Daisy wants Dandy to ferret out information from Lena Duffy on why she is blackmailing Daisy's husband, threatening insurance fraud over the affair of her missing diamonds. When Daisy offers Dandy a sum to solve the mystery, Dandy readily agrees. The younger Duffy girl, Cara, engaged to be married, is the most promising conversationalist. She has something to tell Dandy and Dandy promises to meet Cara at a later date to discuss it. By the time Dandy arrives at the Duffy's seaside cottage, the house has been burned to the ground with Cara in it. Daisy and Cara's fiance Alec sense a mystery and Daisy bumbles and stumbles around the truth until she is forced to admit it. Then she must do something to unravel the mystery of Cara's death and the missing diamonds.

This book started off super slow. It seemed very superficial about a bunch of rich people with rich people problems. That sort of thing is less charming in the 20th century than the 19th, especially after such a devastating war. Dandy seems very glib and foolish. The characters all seemed superficial valuing honor and family name above all else. Then when Cara goes missing, the fun begins. There are so many clues for Dandy and Alec to follow and so many seeming dead ends that I just could NOT put the book down. It's not a typical cozy mystery with a guess the murderer plot. It's more of a crime novel - figure out what actually happened and why. I did guess at some of the secrets but most were shocking. There are some brutal descriptions of a murder victim, madness, family pride and greed that make this novel not so cozy. The reader is left to figure out some things on their own and I would have liked them actually written out. I think I figured out one secret but some loose ends are left hanging.

The characters in this novel are typical of the upper crust of British society at the time. They're shallow, manipulative, silly, sly, and full of secrets that could ruin reputations. Dandy is called foolish several times and she really is. She has many cringe-worthy awkward moments, but what she does have is heart. Alec is the only other character that appealed to me. He's charming, kind and caring, though we don't really know all that much about him. I liked Cara instantly. She's sweet and kind compared to the rest of her family, and I was utterly depressed when I read about her death. Dandy's husband Hugh is a complete idiot or chooses not to see things he doesn't want to see. He's a boring husband and I wished Daisy wasn't married to such a boring man. It was tough to read scenes with them together. It's obvious this was not a love match. Daisy's children appear late in the story and they're typical school boys. I was hoping for more substance from them but they flit around annoying their mother and the reader. I think Daisy is the most foolish character in the entire book. She annoyed me a lot for all the reasons listed above about British society at that time.

The mystery is worth reading for the plot. I didn't care for the characters to want to read more about Dandy. 

Million Dollar Baby (A Marjorie McClelland Mystery, #1)Million Dollar Baby by Amy Patricia Meade--historical mystery

In 1935 rural Connecticut, Miss Marjorie McClelland is tired of the gossip about her personal life or lack thereof. She's content to make a modest amount of money writing mystery novels and doesn't mind the only man in her life right now is her cat Sam. Then Creighton Ashcroft, the son of a wealthy British industrialist purchases Kensington House, the oldest house in town, and Marjorie finds herself in the middle of a mystery worthy of a novel. Creighton is madly in love with Marjorie and can't understand why she keeps flirting with Detective Jameson, the police officer in charge of solving the mystery of the skeleton found at Kensington House. Marjorie and Creighton convince Jameson to open a five-year-old mystery, believing it to be connected to the body found on the property. Creighton sees the opportunity to be with Marjorie and she sees the opportunity for romance with Jameson as well as fuel for a new book. No one is prepared for the web of deceit and treachery found in their small town.

This story is a cross between a crime novel and a cozy mystery. Like a cozy it's set in a small town and features an amateur sleuth or two. Unlike cozy mysteries, the subject matter gets pretty dark and there's a bit of violence before it's all done. I wasn't prepared for that kind of plot but it did keep me interested and reading until I was done. I didn't guess at anything and think the mystery is well done.

Where this book lost me is the characters. I couldn't stand either of the protagonists. The dialogue is wooden and unrealistic. I kept forgetting Creighton was supposed to be British and when he tossed in words like lift and lorry, it felt jarring. Marjorie seems like a modern kind of heroine but the second she meets a good looking man she starts behaving like a coquette. She is also a bit naive at times and experiences a few small cringe-worthy moments. She's constantly attacking Creighton and arguing with him like a child. Creighton's behavior is even more childish. He is used to getting what he wants and getting it immediately and will go to any lengths to get it. He applies this behavior to Marjorie. He fully expects her to love him back even though they only just met! Throughout the whole novel he behaves immaturely and I couldn't stand him. He only has a few charming, kind moments but not enough for me to like him. Jameson is a chivalrous gentleman and not really strong enough to deal with Marjorie's forceful personality but he never behaved as badly as Creighton. Noonan provides some comic relief. At first I didn't like him at all but then as he kept popping in the story, his dialogue was so funny that I couldn't help but like him.

I don't think I am interested in reading any more of these books. The characters annoyed me too much to want to read more of them.

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