The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy

by Jasper Fforde

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Jasper Fforde does it again with a dazzling new series starring Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division.

Jasper Fforde’s bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy, Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He’s investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

(I originally shared this review on June 16, 2015…so three years ago! I have been struggling to stick with a book this summer and The Big Over Easy felt like a perfect reread. I still stand by what I originally said about the book and I’m loving it even more the second time around! Enjoy!)

Jack Spratt is in charge of the Nursery Crimes Division of Reading, a division on the verge of losing its budget thanks to his recent inability to convict the Three Little Pigs of murdering the Big Bad Wolf. Then the smashed remains of Humpty Dumpty are found next to a wall and Jack knows it wasn’t suicide. Now Jack must find the murderer, save his misfit division, and keep sleuthing celebrity, DCI Friedland Chimes, off the case.

I absolutely loved The Big Over Easy. Thank you for the recommendation Polly! Each page is packed with nursery rhyme references but it never feels overwhelming as the passages are so matter-or-fact. It leaves you with this nagging feeling that these events actually happened. Fforde’s dry, sarcastic humor kept my snickering and speeding through the novel. The Jack and the Beanstalk references killed me every time!

My only complaint is the climax chapters were too fast paced for me in comparison to the rest of the story. That’s it for me but I did take some time to read the few negative reviews of The Big Over Easy. My response to them is: do NOT read this book if you don’t like murder mysteries. It’s a murder mystery that mocks the elaborate and showy nature of modern mystery development. How can you expect to like that when you don’t enjoy mystery novels?! Other reviewers complain that Fforde is trying too hard to be clever and only includes all the nursery rhyme information to make his readers feel smart when they get the references. You’ve got to be kidding me. Yes, the clever jokes and writing style may be too much for some but I highly doubt Fforde is more concerned with boosting the ego of his readers over the need to provide a good complex story. My only advice for such thinkers is that you should get over yourself and learn to enjoy the mechanics and discipline required to write a well balanced story.

Fforde’s jaw dropping ability to expertly meld so much research and detail in to one murder mystery has me wanting to be a better writer. I recommend The Big Over Easy to writers, as well as readers, as a prime example of a writing style that remains showing despite being so informational.

Have you discovered the Nursery Crimes Division? It’s time you should!

Lindsay

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Murder on the Ballarat Train

Murder on the Ballarat Train

by Kerry Greenwood

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When the 1920s’ most glamorous lady detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, arranges to go to Ballarat for the week, she eschews the excitement of her red Hispano-Suiza racing car for the sedate safety of the train. The last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save lives. As the passengers sleep, they are poisoned with chloroform.

Phryne is left to piece together the clues after this restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumors of white slavery and black magic, and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. Then there is the rowing team and the choristers, all deliciously engaging young men. At first they seem like a pleasant diversion….

I think it is safe to say that I am officially hooked on the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series! Murder on the Ballarat Train is the third novel in this mystery series (check out the reviews for Cocaine Blues and Flying too High) and the scene opens with Phryne and Dot on a train bound for the town of Ballarat. Phryne awakens to the overwhelming stench of chloroform filling the first class car and barely manages to flush the fumes before being overcome with by its effects. The spunky young detective is too insulted at the attack to let the culprit go unpunished and soon she is up to her neck investing the murder of a cruel woman, the identity of a lost little girl, and the truth behind a certain sex trade operation.

Honestly folks, Greenwood’s writing improves with each novel. I will admit that Murder on the Ballarat Train does start slow, but the pace picks up after the first few chapters. The plot flows together seamlessly, and we get a better glimpse of Phyrne’s ‘devil may care’ side. Her character development is progresses with each novel and it almost feels as if you are slowly getting to know a new friend. We get to see Dot excel in her quiet strength, and learn even more about Phyne’s go to street men, Burt and Cec. Plus, we are provided a couple of interesting mysteries that twist and flow together perfectly.

Like Cocaine Blues, Murder on the Ballarat Tran was turned in to an episode for the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries tv show (which can be found on Netflix). So fans of the tv show will know who-dunnit well before the reveal of the killer, but this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. Murder on the Ballarat Train was just a fun read, and the Phyrne Fisher Mystery Series has quickly become my go-to when I am in need a fun, historical murder mystery. Is anyone else a fan yet!?

Lindsay

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

by Robert Goldsborough

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To become part of the Nero Wolfe legend, Archie Goodwin must prove his worth

Archie Goodwin comes to New York City hoping for a bit of excitement. In his third week working as a night watchman, he stops two burglars in their tracks—with a pair of hot lead slugs. Dismissed from his job for being “trigger-happy,” he parlays his newfound notoriety into a job as a detective’s assistant, helping honest sleuth Del Bascom solve cases like the Morningside Piano Heist, the Rive Gauche Art Gallery Swindle, and the Sumner-Hayes Burglary. But it’s the kidnapping of Tommie Williamson, the son of a New York hotel magnate, that introduces Goodwin to the man who will change his life. Young Tommie has gone missing, and only one detective is built for the job: Nero Wolfe, the heavyset genius of West Thirty-Fifth Street. Together they will form one of the most unlikely crime fighting duos in history—but first Goodwin must find Tommie Williamson, and prove to Wolfe that he deserves a place by his side.

So, if you’ve read my blog in the past, you will know that I absolutely adore the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. I was first introduced to the characters through the A&E TV series, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, starring Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. The series was unique in that the same ensemble of guest actors were utilized to play characters in each episode, in a similar style to the traditional theatre troupe. This tv series led to me picking up the novels, and I have shared reviews for both The Black Orchids and Cordially Invited to Meet Death. It is safe to say that I am a Nero Wolfe fan! So, I didn’t hesitate to pick up Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe Mysteries. I have read this novel a number of times, and as I consider it one of my favorites, I decided it was in desperate need of a reread. I still enjoy the story, but sadly I no longer consider it one of my favorites. So let’s get in to the review.

The story is about how Archie Goodwin meets Nero Wolfe, and his journey to becoming the famous detective’s right hand man. Archie has just moved to New York City, and doesn’t last a month at his first job because he’s too deadly with a gun. He takes up as an assistant for gum-shoe, Del Bascom, and discovers there is more to being a detective than what he reads in his favorite dime novels. But not surprisingly, Archie is a natural, and his success on small cases lands him on a crew of detectives working for Nero Wolfe and investigating the kidnapping of young Tommie Williamson.

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe is longer than the short novel style of the original Rex Stout stories, but stays true to the form in that it is told from Archie’s point of view. This style of narrative pulls the reader into the story and gives you an intimate understanding of both Archie and the investigation. The mystery is unique enough to keep the reader involved, with a good steady pacing that pulls you along as the clues unfold. Goldsborough does an excellent job capturing Archie’s charismatic yet headstrong personality, and he accurately presents favorite staple characters, such as Inspector Cramer, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer. I had no problem picturing each of them as they stalk through New York City on the trail of the kidnappers. It is a great mystery with a nice crew of quirky characters.

But, there are a couple of things that made me take Archie Meets Nero Wolfe off my ‘favorite books’ list. The first is the story is good if you are already a fan of the original series. Though I felt Goldsborough captured the essence of most of the characters, I would have been a little disappointed in the character development if I didn’t already know who these men were. The mystery is great, but the character development requires previous knowledge of the players. The second is I was disappointed in was the lack of banter between Archie and Wolfe. Sure, I understand that this is just the beginning of their association and the two haven’t had a chance to establish their snarky relationship, but it left Nero Wolfe feeling flat. We don’t see him get flustered. We don’t hear the snark behind his comments. We don’t get to hear one single ‘Phooey!’ Those are things that endear readers to Nero Wolfe, and I definitely noticed that something was missing.

I wouldn’t recommend Archie Meets Nero Wolfe as an intro to the eccentric detective. Read The Black Orchids, watch the tv show, and then come back to this story because you can appreciate it once you actually know the characters.

So, is anyone else a Nero Wolfe fan? Let me know which mystery is your favorite!

Lindsay

Murder on Santa Claus Lane

Murder on Santa Claus Lane

by William G Bogart

Murder on Santa Claus Lane

G-Men Detective, January 1943
MURDER ON SANTA CLAUS LANE
by William G. Bogart

With a Blackout in Hollywood, Rookie Patrol Car Cop Johnny Regan Does Some X-Ray Work to See Through Crime!

Murder on Santa Claus Lane combines two of my typical December reading trends: Christmas mystery and crime noir/pulp fiction.  My love for Nero Wolfe has me slowly branching out to similar noir pieces and I found this short story through Barnes and Noble.  Murder on Santa Claus Lane has been publish in e-book format by Peril Press, an independent publisher based in Portland, and was initially printed in the January 1943 issue of the G-Men Detective Magazine.  This publication featured ‘G-Men’ crime stories and was produced from 1935 to 1953.  William G Bogart was a prolific crime novelist who worked on the Doc Savage novels. (Note: Limited research was involved so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong!)

Johnny Regan is a rookie patrol cop in Hollywood.  He is stuck working the streets over the Christmas holidays and is disappointed that air raids have the city blacked out.  He isn’t even able to enjoy the Christmas lights on patrol.  But, all thoughts of holiday cheer are forgotten when he and his partner, Big Ben Slattery, get tangled up in a holiday robbery.

Murder on Santa Claus Lane is a fun short story full of that classic noir flavor.  Regan is a young buck who is headstrong, cocky, and quite fond of shapely blondes.  Big Ben is his always-cheerful mentor.  Together, they scour the less wealthy streets of Hollywood for crime.  The passages just dripped with the raw imagery of the genre.  My imagination put me right there in the middle of the grainy black and white scene as the copper raced to help his cornered partner…  I love this genre!

Surprisingly, the story, and characters, are just a tad too flat for me.  Bogart was missing some essential descriptive language and I was left feeling that this was a short story he pinned for some extra dough and exposure.  I just couldn’t really connect with any of the characters and that is essential for short stories.  You want your readers invested by the end of the first paragraph.  There were a few continuity errors that forced me to re-read parts.  Just small things that left me thinking, “Where in the world did that flashlight come from?”  The story composition was just rough.

Murder on Santa Claus Lane is worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre.  I suggest something a tad bit more polished for those starting out in crime noir.  Hardboiled crime/crime noir is a rugged pulp fiction style that is definitely an acquired taste.  I love it!  The grittiness, clichés, and language push me to read more of the genre.  Any hardboiled crime/crime noir fans out there?  What is your favorite book?

Lindsay

Flying Too High

Flying Too High

by Kerry Greenwood

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Phryne Fisher has her hands full in this, her second adventure. And just when we think she’s merely a brilliant, daring, sexy woman, Phyrne demonstrates other skills, including flying an airplane and doing her own stunts!

Phryne takes on a fresh case at the pleading of a hysterical woman who fears her hot-headed son is about to murder his equally hot-headed father. Phryne, bold as we love her to be, first upstages the son in his own aeroplane at his Sky-High Flying School, then promptly confronts him about his mother’s alarm. To her dismay, however, the father is soon killed and the son taken off to jail. Then a young girl is kidnapped, and Phryne―who will never leave anyone in danger, let alone a child―goes off to the rescue.

Engaging the help of Bert and Cec, the always cooperative Detective-Inspector Robinson, and her old flying chum Bunji Ross, Phryne comes up with a scheme too clever to be anyone else’s, and in her typical fashion saves the day, with plenty of good food and hot tea all around. Meanwhile, Phryne moves into her new home at 221B, The Esplanade, firmly establishes Dot as her “Watson,” and adds two more of our favourite characters, Mr. and Mrs. Butler, to the cast.

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a few weeks but you know how crazy it can be around the holidays. So, let’s jump in to my review of Flying Too High to kick off this review week!

Flying Too High is the second book in the Phryne Fisher murder mystery series. Feel free to check out my review for the first story, Cocaine Blues. Phryne is settling in to her new life in Melbourne. She has a new house, a new car, and has established Dot as her official companion. She’s ready to make her name as a lady detective and is ecstatic when she’s brought on to prevent a potential family murder. What follows is a gruesome death, daredevil flying, life threatening stunts, and the resolution of two mysteries. 

As mentioned before, I was first introduced to Phryne and her adventures on the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries tv show, which can be found on Netflix. As such, I had fully expected most of the stories to follow the same plot lines as the tv episodes (something I was totally fine with), but I was pleasantly surprised when Flying Too High offered something new! I won’t provide any details about the mysteries to prevent spoilers, but i can promise Flying Too High provides the same quirky cast of characters, and fast paced antics that can be expected of a Phryne Fisher story. 

I also enjoyed the aviation sequences, which were written quite accurately according to my limited knowledge of post-WWI aircraft designs. Aviation is a hobby of mine, so I appreciate when it is presented realistically. But I have two warn up, there are a few action sequences that are over the top. For those serious readers who would be insulted by such antics…these books are not for you. For everyone else…you’re gonna love it!
Flying Too High was a fun read and I’m ready to pick up the next installment of the series.  It’s perfect for any time you need a quick escape from reality and I highly recommend it if you have a case of the holiday blues.

Let me know what you think! Anyone else love all things Phryne Fisher?!

Lindsay

The Black Orchids

The Black Orchids

by Rex Stout

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe, #9)

It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore”.–The New York Times Book Review. Incomparable sleuth Nero Wolfe and his perennially hardy sidekick, Archie Goodwin, find themselves trying to weed out a garden-variety killer at the annual flower show.

This is my FAVORITE Nero Wolfe story!  I am sitting here grinning from ear to ear because I am so excited to share it with you!  I would be dancing but I’m waiting until I finally get home to do so.

Nero Wolfe is an amateur horticulturist who strictly specializes in orchids.  The entire top floor of his brownstone has been converted to a green house and he spends precisely four hours a day attending to his plants.  The Black Orchids starts with Archie stuck at a Flower Show examining the main exhibit, three rare black orchids, for his boss.  Wolfe eventually ventures out of the brownstone to see the blooms for himself; on the same afternoon a young gardener is found dead in a display.  Wolfe eagerly takes on the case in hopes of adding some new orchids to his ever growing collection.

I love The Black Orchids because it perfectly showcases the dynamic between Wolfe and Archie.  Readers experience Archie’s snarky attitude and his joy at badgering his boss through his narration.  Wolfe’s quirks, including his brash selfishness, are spread out in detail for the readers.  But one of the best parts is getting to experience one of Wolfe’s theatrical who-dunnit’ reveals.

Rex Stout is just gifted.  His prose pulls you through the narrative making you eagerly await the answers.  He delves in to the personalities of most of his characters and I enjoy what he shares of Inspector Cramer and Lewis Hewett.  But be warned; the female characters can read flat.  Wolfe resists interacting with women on the off chance they get hysterical and Archie is more focused on the physical attributes.  But don’t worry; they are not sexist pigs.  Both men enjoy conversing with highly intelligent and independent women so they show up on a regular basis through the series.  Wolfe even verbally spars with two female witnesses in The Black Orchids.

Read it!  I always recommend Rex Stout for those interested in crime noir.  The Nero Wolfe books are not as gritty as most hardboiled crime pieces but I personally enjoy the humorous aspects.  Have you read any Rex Stout?  Which story is your favorite?

Lindsay

The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde

The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime, #1)

Jasper Fforde does it again with a dazzling new series starring Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division.

Jasper Fforde’s bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy, Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He’s investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

Jack Spratt is in charge of the Nursery Crimes Division of Reading, a division on the verge of losing its budget thanks to his recent inability to convict the Three Little Pigs of murdering the Big Bad Wolf. Then the smashed remains of Humpty Dumpty are found next to a wall and Jack knows it wasn’t suicide. Now Jack must find the murderer, save his misfit division, and keep sleuthing celebrity, DCI Friedland Chimes, off the case.

I absolutely loved The Big Over Easy. Thank you for the recommendation Polly! Each page is packed with nursery rhyme references but it never feels overwhelming as the passages are so matter-or-fact. It leaves you with this nagging feeling that these events actually happened. Fforde’s dry, sarcastic humor kept my snickering and speeding through the novel. The Jack and the Beanstalk references killed me every time!

My only complaint is the climax chapters were too fast paced for me in comparison to the rest of the story. That’s it for me but I did take some time to read the few negative reviews of The Big Over Easy. My response to them is: do NOT read this book if you don’t like murder mysteries. It’s a murder mystery that mocks the elaborate and showy nature of modern mystery development. How can you expect to like that when you don’t enjoy mystery novels?! Other reviewers complain that Fforde is trying too hard to be clever and only includes all the nursery rhyme information to make his readers feel smart when they get the references. You’ve got to be kidding me. Yes, the clever jokes and writing style may be too much for some but I highly doubt Fforde is more concerned with boosting the ego of his readers over the need to provide a good complex story. My only advice for such thinkers is that you should get over yourself and learn to enjoy the mechanics and discipline required to write a well balanced story.

Fforde’s jaw dropping ability to expertly meld so much research and detail in to one murder mystery has me wanting to be a better writer. I recommend The Big Over Easy to writers, as well as readers, as a prime example of a writing style that remains showing despite being so informational.

Have you discovered the Nursery Crimes Division? It’s time you should!

Lindsay

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

 

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

by Rex Stout

Cordially Invited to Meet Death: A Nero Wolfe Novella

My synopsis:  Bess Huddleston, an eccentric party planner for New York’s elite, approaches Wolfe with a request; to find the culprit behind letters damaging her image.  Wolfe takes on the case at the promise of a hefty fee, but Huddleston dies of tetanus just days later.  Archie Goodwin is sure it is foul play and pushes Wolfe to search for Huddleston’s murderer.

Cordially Invited to Meet Death is included in The Black Orchids collection.  Black Orchids are a small detail of the story and play an important role for Archie during his investigation.  His statement at the end of the novel is perfect.  It ties everything together but still leaves readers marveling at the mystery that is Nero Wolfe.

I enjoy Cordially Invited to Meet Death because of how the murder is committed.  The scientific nature is just fascinating and is different, as the novella was written long before the mass production of crime investigation shows.  It also perfectly showcases the tumultuous relationship shared by Wolfe and Inspector Cramer.  The two worked together in the last novella I reviewed but this time they are left butting heads.  Cramer insists on throwing his badge and authority at Wolfe who promptly investigates the murder out of spit!  We also get to see the Archie’s frustrations at working with a genius who rarely shares his full thought process.

This is not my favorite novella because of the cast of characters.  Bess Huddleston just irks me, especially with her menagerie of dangerous pets.  I shared Archie’s opinion of Ms. Huddleston’s home.  I personally feel that wild animals should not be pets and that most people who have them as pets don’t even have the ability to train a dog, much less a bear or chimp.  It may seem harsh but I am sure Wolfe would agree with me.  I also wanted to know specific details during the reveal of the murderer, but I can’t go in to that without ruining the story.

Has anyone else read Cordially Invited to Meet Death?  Have I convinced you to check out Nero Wolfe yet? 😉

Lindsay

The Twelve Gauge of Christmas

The Twelve Gauge of Christmas

by P.A. Gardinali

The Twelve Gauge of Christmas

It was the old bastard, all right; laying by the fireplace, contorted in an unnatural pose. The streaks of blood ran down from the mantelpiece, which he had likely grabbed in a desperate escape attempt.” A homage to my favorite noir writer of all times. Set in an alternate reality, just slightly less bizarre than ours.

Note:  This story takes a rather morbid approach to the Santa Claus myth.  I enjoyed it because, well, I have a rather morbid sense of humor.  Just keep that in mind during my review and while reading the story.  I definitely recommend it; especially to the crime noir fans!

To be honest, I purchased The Twelve Gauge of Christmas because the Nook copy was cheap and the title made me chuckle.  It was such a far cry from the Hallmark movies I have binged watched the last few weeks and, oddly, exactly what I needed this Monday morning.

Gardinali provides a the very different approach to Santa Claus with his crime noir short.  You should all know by now that I am a sucker for the hardboiled crime writing style and Gardinali’s prose had me hooked the first page.  I even enjoy the gritty run down cop, Thompson’s, first person POV.  I want to tell you all about the little details that just rocked this story, but I can’t.  I want you to read it!  And I don’t want to ruin it!

I do wish Gardinali had provided more information about the religious division Thompson worked for.  The details concerning this version of our world had me hoping that Gardinali has more stories set in this alternate ‘US of A.’  I just want to know more, but it would have ruined the story structure if he had included it.  I also wondered if Gardinali was trying to make a subtle religious statement; if so, it escaped me.  Of course, this may just be me over analyzing in my lack-of-coffee state.

Have you read The Twelve Gauge of Christmas?  Are you a fan of Gardinali?  This story has me wanting to read some of his other work.  It was nice to read a twisted Christmas story 😀

Lindsay

The Black Orchids

The Black Orchids

by Rex Stout

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe, #9)

It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore”.–The New York Times Book Review. Incomparable sleuth Nero Wolfe and his perennially hardy sidekick, Archie Goodwin, find themselves trying to weed out a garden-variety killer at the annual flower show.

This is my FAVORITE Nero Wolfe story!  I am sitting here grinning from ear to ear because I am so excited to share it with you!  I would be dancing but I’m waiting until I finally get home to do so.

Nero Wolfe is an amateur horticulturist who strictly specializes in orchids.  The entire top floor of his brownstone has been converted to a green house and he spends precisely four hours a day attending to his plants.  The Black Orchids starts with Archie stuck at a Flower Show examining the main exhibit, three rare black orchids, for his boss.  Wolfe eventually ventures out of the brownstone to see the blooms for himself; on the same afternoon a young gardener is found dead in a display.  Wolfe eagerly takes on the case in hopes of adding some new orchids to his ever growing collection.

I love The Black Orchids because it perfectly showcases the dynamic between Wolfe and Archie.  Readers experience Archie’s snarky attitude and his joy at badgering his boss through his narration.  Wolfe’s quirks, including his brash selfishness, are spread out in detail for the readers.  But one of the best parts is getting to experience one of Wolfe’s theatrical who-dunnit’ reveals.

Rex Stout is just gifted.  His prose pulls you through the narrative making you eagerly await the answers.  He delves in to the personalities of most of his characters and I enjoy what he shares of Inspector Cramer and Lewis Hewett.  But be warned; the female characters can read flat.  Wolfe resists interacting with women on the off chance they get hysterical and Archie is more focused on the physical attributes.  But don’t worry; they are not sexist pigs.  Both men enjoy conversing with highly intelligent and independent women so they show up on a regular basis through the series.  Wolfe even verbally spars with two female witnesses in The Black Orchids.

Read it!  I always recommend Rex Stout for those interested in crime noir.  The Nero Wolfe books are not as gritty as most hardboiled crime pieces but I personally enjoy the humorous aspects.  Have you read any Rex Stout?  Which story is your favorite?

Lindsay