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July 23rd, 2012

19 of 52

Bellfield Hall (A Dido Kent Mystery, #1)Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was warmly recommended by a friend who has excellent taste in books. Unfortunately, this is one time our tastes did not line up as perfectly as usual.

There is a great deal to recommend this book. Good characterizations, even of relatively minor characters, a fairly accurate sense of the conventions of Napoleonic Era England (at least to the extent modern sensibilities can tolerate) and a mystery that is reasonably well thought out.

Alas, I find the heroine, Dido Kent, unsympathetic. She has all the nosiness of Miss Marple, but none of the discretion, all the judgmental nature of Elizabeth Bennett, without the charm. I found myself wishing she'd experience a public come-uppance, not success. Not something I should feel about the heroine.

Anna Dean can write, no doubt about that. I just don't happen to like what she's writing. Scatch one series off my list.

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20 of 52

Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake, #2)Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I've read in this series (four written so far--I'm a bit behind). I'm looking forward to picking up the next, which is probably the clearest indication of my opinion.

There are a number of things I like about these books. For one, the characters are complex, with virtues and flaws that make them fully human. Sansom also focuses on the middle class characters of Tudor England, as opposed to the aristocracy, which is a refreshing change after the endless list of mysteries of this era that tend to focus on the "plucky Lady-in-Waiting" mystery-solver. Our hero, Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer of Lincoln's Inn; his friends and acquaintances, and the day to day workings of London are the lifeblood of the novels. You can almost hear and smell London in the summer heat--which is frequently not very pleasant at all. But the sense of place, and persons, is intense and palpable. The complexity of the mysteries is just an added bonus.

This volume is set in the summer of 1540, which like this summer, is unusually hot and dry, so it was easy to put myself in the spirit of the place, and, as a student of the period knows, it was a significant year in Henry VIII's reign, the year, as he famously put it, "On light pretexts, by false accusations, they made me put to death the most faithful servant I ever had." Like the first novel in the series, Dissolution, the disolution of the monasteries, the tensions between Catholics and Protestants, reformers and conservatives, is the foundation of much of what transpires. Questions of faith and philosophy run through the novel, and through the characters, creating a wonderful tapestry.

This is not a "quick read," but it is a worthwhile one.

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