A Mind to Murder–P.D. James

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This is a classic murder mystery, a closed-room murder where the suspect list is limited to a specific group of people. The entire thing revolves around personalities and the breaking of alibis.

Set in an upscale psychiatric clinic, the administrative officer is found killed in the basement, stunned by a carved wooden phallus and then stabbed through the chest with a chisel.

Suspects include the officer’s cousin who inherits her money, someone who has been blackmailing former patients and was about to get busted, and people who have been trying to get the administrative officer fired for years.

It’s nice to see an old-fashioned murder mystery, not unlike Agatha Christie books. There’s a reason that P.D. James is so popular.

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Well Schooled In Murder–Elizabeth George

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This is the third in the Inspector Lynley series, and it was very sad. I suppose all mysteries are sad in their own way, but this one felt especially sad to me.

A school boy at a private boarding school is found dead in a churchyard, naked and tortured.

They have to try to figure out who killed him and why. It rapidly becomes apparent that he was miserable at that school. He hated it and his classmates looked down on him because he was a scholarship recipient and therefore not really of the same class as his classmates.

I detest snobs.

There’s all kinds of weird things happening there at the school. For example, the person from the school board that pushed through the kid’s scholarship appointment had taken interest in another child, about 12 years earlier. It turns out the same school board member had arranged for the child’s adoption privately, an adoption of which no official record exists.

Then there’s the fact that the kid had wired a room for sound and made a recording of another child being bullied, which he used to blackmail the bully into stopping.

I think that’s what made this story feel so sad to me. He was an only child–his parents couldn’t have children of their own, that’s why they adopted–and his parents are, obviously devastated. And the child himself was a sympathetic character, one that tried to protect his friend from a bully without breaking the unwritten school code of refusing to tattle, and who spent his free time visiting a shut in nearby. And he was killed, in part because of his inherent honorable nature.

Still, it’s a good book. Interesting and complex enough to keep you turning the pages.

 

The Queen’s Fool–Philippa Gregory

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I’ve read a couple of these books, but it’s been a long time. Fortunately, this isn’t a series in that there are continuing characters so I can pick up where I left off.

If you aren’t aware of Philippa Gregory, she does historical fiction set in the Tudor courts. Her most famous book (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) was made into a movie a few years ago.

This book centers on a young Jewish girl whose mother was killed by the Spanish Inquisition. Hannah inadvertently attracts the attention of a member of the powerful Dudley family and is recruited to court to act as a “holy fool” for the very sick Edward VI. This is because she occasionally has flashes of foreknowledge that the royal family finds useful.

Edward, of course, dies. The Dudleys send her to the future Queen Mary I, with instructions to spy on her. Hannah does, but develops an affection for the queen regardless. When she ascends the throne, Mary uses her much the same way, sending her periodically over to Princess Elizabeth as a spy.

Of course, the entire time Hannah is concerned that she and her family could be outed as Jews and condemned, and as the height of the religious cleansing under Mary I approaches, she and her family escape to Calais, where she marries her betrothed and settles into an uneasy existence as a wife. It’s not easy to be a housewife when you’re used to the Tudor court.

Eventually she leaves her husband when she discovers he has a lover and a child. Even his promises not to see them any more do not move her. But when the Spanish and French attack Calais and his lover is killed, she uses her previous connection with the Dudleys to get herself and her husband’s child back to England. She survives until the end of Mary’s reign and with the relative freedom of Elizabeth’s reign, brings her husband back to England where they will presumably live happily ever after.

The Tudor period is one of my favorites, because it’s so full of drama and intrigue. Of course, it was a highly dangerous time to be alive. At almost any point during the Tudor period you could find yourself executed or imprisoned for little or no reason. These books are frivolous–beach reading, if you will–but well done and solidly researched. If you like lightweight historical fiction, these are good choices for you.