Death on Demand–Carolyn Hart

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This is the first in the “Death on Demand” series. I like these books. I met Carolyn Hart at a book signing a few years ago and I like her, too. She’s a lovely woman.

The most recent books are becoming a tad predictable, but the early ones are wonderful. This is not my favorite of her works–I prefer “A Little Class on Murder” and “The Christie Caper”–but it is a solid introduction to the series.

The main character is Annie Laurance, who owns a mystery bookstore on a small island off the coast of South Carolina. Her former boyfriend has tracked her down and is her sidekick in the series.

In this one, a handful of authors meet every Sunday night at the bookstore and one of them announces that he’s going to write a tell-all about them and expose their dirty secrets. And then he dies.

Annie is a suspect, as indeed are all the other authors.

This series has a handful of trademarks. One of these is the author’s incredibly varied references to mystery authors and books throughout the series. If you want a comprehensive mystery education, ¬†you could take notes and read all the authors she references. It’s quite impressive, actually. I’m a big mystery fan and I haven’t read more than maybe a third of the authors she references.

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A Share in Death–Deborah Crombie

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This is the first in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. This is a great series, and I recommend it to anyone who likes traditional mysteries with a slight bit of an edge.

I want to point out that the author lives in Denton, Texas. I have been in Denton, Texas. I’ve not been to England, where the series is based, but I HAVE been to Denton and I can assure you, there is no chance that she’s getting her details from Denton. It is very much the middle of nowhere Texas. If it wasn’t for the University of North Texas, it wouldn’t even be a place to stop for lunch. I feel like anyone who lives there and successfully recreates such a different environment should get bonus points.

Ok, moving on. In this one, we are introduced to our lead characters. Duncan Kincaid is a superintendent at Scotland Yard. Which I think is like a manager of some sort? Anyway, he has authority. His cousin has an expensive time-share that he can’t use this year and so he gives it to Duncan. Duncan goes and it’s like a big house and everyone has their own apartment and there’s a pool and common area and opportunities for them to socialize with each other.

And of course, all these people are crazy. There are all these strange relationships and undercurrents that he doesn’t understand because most of these people live there full time so it’s more like what happens when you’re in a dorm than what happens when you are in an apartment.

Unsurprisingly, a body turns up. It’s essentially a closed-room type mystery. It is virtually impossible for it to be someone outside the house. He calls up his second in command, Gemma James. They have very different styles. He’s all careful intelligence and she’s all gentle and good at listening, and together they start to pierce the lies and confusion to solve the murder.

I love these books, they are wonderful. Please consider them, and start from the beginning. The threads of the personal stories of Kincaid and James get complicated and it’s best to keep yourself in order.

The Last Kingdom–Bernard Cornwell

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This is the first of a series. The series is good, and they’re making it into a show (miniseries? I’m not entirely sure) at the BBC.

The series traces the struggle between the native peoples of what is now England and the Viking invaders.

There’s no “England” as such. There’s a bunch of kingdoms, none of which are very big and most of which are minimally powerful. Hence, the island seemed like easy pickings for the Vikings. The books trace the life of Uthred, the heir to Northumbria.

This first book starts with a Viking landing and attack on Northumbria. Uthred goes to battle with his father. His father is killed and he is captured by the Vikings. The Vikings are good to him, training him as one of them. He learns Danish and follows the Danish gods and becomes a solid warrior.

After a happy childhood among the Vikings, there’s a dispute with one of the other Viking bands, and Uthred escapes likely death by joining King Alfred of Wessex. Alfred likes having the heir to Northumbria in his hand and teaches him to read and write. Then he offers Uthred a deal: he can control Alfred’s new ships if he marries an orphaned Wessex woman with lands. It sounds like a good deal, but there’s a catch. The woman’s land is indebted. By marrying her, he’s marrying the debt. He’ll spend way too much of the next few books trying to get that taken care of.

He gets captured by Vikings. The Vikings kill off the captives, but Uthred survives because of his friendship with the son of his adoptive father. He then finds out that his wife and son were taken by another Wessex minor lord, and he chases them down. As he’s looking for them, he stumbles into a major battle between Wessex and the Vikings.

These books are great to read. They’re fast and they’re exciting. Highly recommended.

Guards! Guards!–Terry Pratchett

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This was not one of my favorite of the Discworld books.

It retains the cuteness and the playfulness of the other Discworld books, though, so if that’s what you’re into don’t be afraid to grab it.

In this book, someone has the bright idea to overthrow the elected ruler of the capital city by 1) summoning a dragon using magic 2) setting up some random as “the lost heir to the throne” and 3) making it look like the lost heir killed the dragon.

Things do not go as planned.

He teases you with the real lost heir to the throne and the entire book you’re expecting to see that guy jump in front of the dragon and kill it but nope, not at all.

Instead you have the drunken, dissolute head of the city guards working with an aristocratic lady who breeds small dragons. It’s fun and it’s Discworld, but I’m not feeling it as much. It felt like the entire second half of the book was the “climax.” I kept checking my pages and thinking, how could there be that much left?