#Murderous Mondays: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson #BookReview #Mystery

It’s been a while since I did a #MurderousMondays post, but that’s as it’s been a while since I read a murder mystery, surprisingly for me. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them with this feature too!

This is a more contemporary murder mystery compared to ones I usually read, but with a dual time line, one current and one in the 1930s, it was something that I was very interested in picking up. Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of the same name. In the 1930s, a tycoon named Albert Ellingham sets up the Ellingham Academy in Vermont for gifted students who are free to study subjects/fields that interest them. One day, Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old daughter are kidnapped and never recovered. Alongside, a particularly gifted student has also gone missing. Days before this event, a mysterious riddle/poem arrived, threatening murder, signed by someone called Truly Devious. Eighty years later, in the present day, a young girl called Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Bell arrives at Ellingham, her particular interest—true crime. And part of her aim in coming there is to solve the Ellingham case, which she feels was never really solved. As she gets settled in to life at Ellingham, meeting other students each with their peculiar interests, she also starts to look into the Ellingham case, in which pursuit the faculty and staff are ready to help and encourage. But as she is doing this, there seem to be indications that Truly Devious might strike again—only Stevie isn’t sure whether what she saw real or something she imagined. But the threats become real very soon when death does strike again. But could really it be Truly Devious back from the past?

Wow, I enjoyed this so much for a book which I knew would not have the solution to the mystery—either mystery in fact—that will only happen in book 3. But despite this, the book was so well paced and gripping, it kept me reading throughout. Each of the characters, students or teachers is well drawn out, they each have their quirks and individual personalities all of which stand out in some way or other, and because of which one doesn’t ever end up confusing them even though there are quite a few. This isn’t a book where there are ‘hold-your-breath’ moments throughout as there can be in some stories, yet it holds one’s interest all the time. The story goes back and forth between the events of the 1930s when the Ellingham kidnapping took place, and the investigation that was conducted there (interview transcripts and such) and the present as Stevie is looking into that case, and also of the murderer who strikes in the present.

The book also explores this concept (which I have come across before in the context of learning and problem solving) of that period/mental state between sleep and wakefulness/ between consciousness and unconsciousness when the best/unusual ideas strike one. For Stevie too, certain connections turn up in this state and yet one is never entirely sure whether they are ‘real’ or what her mind has processed when at that point. This part was really interesting for me.   

As far as the mystery itself is concerned, being the first book, it does of course give one the background of what happened but also, Stevie manages to pick up some clues towards the solution of both mysteries, interesting little and not-so-little points which you can see are significant and why so but not perhaps where they will lead or how these will shape up the whole picture. But still one has enough to want to continue on, to see what she will pick up on next, even though the mysteries won’t be solved in that one either. One ‘revelation’ at the end of this one had me thinking of a totally different book, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, because it is very like one secret in that book. And speaking of books, this one talks about mystery stories, especially Agatha Christie, also Holmes, as well as poetry so those who enjoy literary references would love that aspect too.

This was an exciting read for me and I really can’t wait to get to the next one. It becomes available in my part of the world around the end of this month, and then it is a wait till next January for the final instalment. But I think it will be worth it!

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#MurderousMondays: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

It’s Monday again, so time for #MurderousMondays. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many murder mysteries, and of you’re reading any, you can share them too!

As I wrote last week (here), since my reading theme this month is 1930s books, the mysteries I am reading this month are also those written or set in the 1930s. The book I read this week is a British Library Crime Classic, Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. Charles Kingston O’Mahoney, who wrote under the pen name Charles Kingston, began writing crime fiction in 1921 and went on to publish twenty-five mysteries until his death in 1944 (the last was posthumously published). Murder in Piccadilly was published in 1936.

Robert ‘Bobbie’ Cheldon is twenty-three, jobless and incapable of doing work, spoiled rotten by his mother Ruby Cheldon, and brought up in the expectation of inheriting his uncle, Massy Cheldon’s substantial estate (with an income of ten thousand a year). But Massy has a good few years, may be decades, before him yet. Bobbie however has fallen in love with a very pretty but not too talented dancer Nancy Curzon, who dances at a nightclub called the Frozen Fang. And the only way she will accept his suit is if he has a fortune—now! The only solution his mother and uncle have for the present is for him to get a job which they ensure he gets, but he must start at the bottom of the ladder. And Bobbie doesn’t want to work. However, he is also too much of a namby pamby to think murder, well may be not think it, but carry it out at any rate. But the murder does happen, and Bobbie, wittingly or unwittingly becomes involved, for there are unsavoury elements, friends of Nancy, among them ex-pugilist Nosey Ruslin, happy to nudge him in that direction, since it would be sure to give them a golden-egg-laying goose. And Bobbie is too young and foolish to see what’s coming. When the murder takes place, Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard is given charge of the case, and while he is quick to work out who may be involved, he must find the requisite connections and proof, and the extent that each person he suspects is indeed involved, and this starts a sort of battle of wits with Nosey Ruslin. How will the Inspector put the clues together, and does he manage to do it as quickly as he thinks he can?

This certainly wasn’t a conventional murder mystery since we knew who the victim was and who plotted the murder, but it was still surprisingly interesting reading throughout. In the initial parts, as I said, while it is clear who the intended victim is, and who could be the possible killer, one can’t be very sure whether the murder will actually take place and how, though when it does, we have sufficient warning. And then, while we know who has been plotting the murder, we don’t know immediately who actually did the deed, so this remains a bit of a mystery. Once Chief Inspector Wake comes into the picture, the story for me got even more interesting as one begins to see how he acts on both intuition and evidence, preferring human clues who can reveal things to the more traditional understanding of clues, though even these turn out to help him in more than one way. Watching Nosey and the Inspector pit their wits against each other, even when we ‘know’ Wake will come out victorious turned out to be good fun. And the end, well, that has its own little surprises in store as the characters get their just desserts in a way one didn’t see coming (though there was a hint along the way). Even in terms of the investigation, things turn out quite differently than what I expected, and I was left wondering whether any of the characters really ‘won’. [Incidentally, the characters (a dancer in a nightclub, an ex pugilist, and a penniless young gentleman among them) almost sound as if they’d stepped out of a Wodehouse novel, but here they are more real and far less attractive.] So, this book turned out to be mystery that wasn’t a mystery, and yet had plenty to surprise me when I read it. Entertaining and fun!