Monday, January 25, 2016

What I Read in May 2015 Part VII

What I Read in May 2015 Part VII ...

Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse--Historical Fiction/Romance

Bill the ConquerorSir George Pyke, magazine publisher, wishes his won Roderick was more like his senior editor Percy Pilbeam. Roderick is good for nothing. It's a shame Pyke's soon-to-be-conferred title has to pass to his worthless son in future. Pyke's sister, Mrs. Hammond, comes up with the perfect thing for Roderick to do. Roderick will marry her niece (by marriage), Felicia. Flick is not in love with Roderick, she has a crush on a man she met only once, when he saved her from drowning when she was a teenager, but he is in New York so she might as well marry Roderick. Back in New York, the man of Flick's affections, Bill, is tired of his hard-partying lifestyle. He wants to marry his boozy buddy Judson's sister Alice, but in order to do that he needs a job. He hits upon the scheme of applying to his Uncle Cooley for a job in the paper and pulp business, but before he can spring his plan, Alice has another plan for him and Uncle Cooley has a big surprise! Uncle Cooley does have a job for Bill, though, he wants Bill to go to London to find out why the business isn't making as much money as it should. Can Bill pull off his promise to Alice in London and make Uncle Cooley proud?

This early Wodehouse novel seems to be a prototype for the Blandings Castle novels and his other romantic comedies. It's easy to tell that Wodehouse wrote for the stage. I can almost see the stage directions written out and the pacing of the story sounds like a play. Perhaps Wodehouse was still perfecting his craft. The story doesn't have the big screwball moment I love but it does have some very funny scenes, especially the train station towards the end.

The characters are pretty typical of Wodehouse novels. Bill is a good, decent guy. He's not terribly bright but he's likeable. His pal Judson is a lot like Bertie Wooster. He's very funny. Flick is a typical lovelorn Wodehouse heroine. I like her because she's nice and she's normal, despite her awful relatives. Plus, she is owned by a terrier, Bob, who needed more page time. Her family is almost a carbon copy of the Threepwoods in the Blandings Castle saga. Pyke is a most awful, nasty fellow. Pilbeam is not in this one much but he's such a suck up that he manages to make himself hated by everyone. Roderick is a sweet boy. He's not in the story much but his character growth is excellent. It's subtle because he's not really in the story except for a few key scenes so you don't know what he's thinking or feeling until it happens and you see what kind of man he is. The villains are really comical. Some are like right out of a bad gangster film of the period and one is just odd.

This isn't a must-read Wodehouse but I needed something light and fun after the trauma of my last book.

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson-Victorian Mystery

Murder on Astor Place (Gaslight Mystery, #1) Sarah Brandt, widow and midwife is called out one night to a routine birth at a boarding house in Astor Place. She's surprised to catch a brief glimpse of a girl who looks remarkably like someone she once knew. Detective Sargent Frank Malloy is called out to the very safe boarding house the next day to investigate a murder. He has little hope of finding out who killed the girl but if he solves the case, he could get a promotion without having to bribe someone. Despite reforms by Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Frank is certain that the people will revolt against Teddy's new prohibition Sunday law and everything will go back to the corrupt way it's always been. He's furious when Sarah shows up, unawares of the murder but tough enough to challenge his authority. He takes the opportunity to show Sarah who's boss by having her search the victim's room. When Sarah identifies the victim by a name sewn into her clothes, she's shocked to learn that the victim, the girl she had seen that night, was the baby sister of her old classmate Mina VanDamm. How did Alicia end up at a boarding house and what's more, what is an abortionist's instrument doing in the girl's room. When the police take Frank off the case at the request of the family, it's up to Sarah to dig for clues and find out who did this to an innocent 16 year old girl.

Wow is this story ever disturbing. I don't even want to know how the author's mind went where it did. I guessed one of the clues, THAT was obvious and I also pretty much knew who murdered the girl but when all was revealed, it came as a big surprise and a huge shock. To say this mystery is gritty is an understatement. The details of New York City from the slums to the old Knickerbocker family homes are incredibly vivid. The author really paints a picture of New York in the late 19th century. There are also great descriptions of fashions and etiquette and at the heart of the novel - the values the old money families cherished. Those values were obvious to me before I even opened the book. I know enough about the 400 Club to know they operated on the same values as the English aristocracy. Sarah knew that and understood what was at stake as she searched for the killer. Frank is just learning and the secrets revealed would cause a huge scandal even today. It's very timely given a reality show scandal that recently came to light. There is more than one murder in this novel and they're a little gruesome.

None of the characters in this book were likable. Sarah is a strong, proud woman who doesn't tolerate hypocrisy or being told what to do. I wanted to like her because she seemed like a woman I could be friends with, however, she left me a little cold. At times she was very naive and the story doesn't even address how she was responsible (indirectly) for the murders that follow the main event. Frank is an insufferable donkey's behind. My first impression of him was that he was misogynistic, cynical and had some kind of bug up his butt. His backstory is slowly revealed and he has reasons for being the way he is, just as Sarah has been shaped by her past. However, as a police officer I think he could have been a little less rough with Sarah and everyone else he interacts with. I guess the police were pretty rough back then but it seems like Frank is extra tough because he has a chip on his shoulder. I liked him a bit better at the end but not much. The only character I liked was the dead girl. She was a sweet innocent who didn't deserve the lot she was given in life and death. I also actually felt bad for another character as well who was a victim and their circumstances shaped them and made them into a disturbing person. It was no fault of theirs that they were the way they were. I know that doesn't make sense but it will if you read the book.

The paperback book has some spelling errors/word choice errors and there are some anachronistic terms used in the story that don't make sense for the time period.

Content warning:
This book is super gritty. You have poverty, childbirth, corrupt police, murder, and abortion.

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