Monday, September 28, 2015

The Miracle at St. Bruno's by Philippa Carr

cover of The Miracle at St. Bruno's by Philippa Carr
When I was a teenager, I loved to read Victoria Holt, Phyliss Whitney, and Mary Stewart. Because I wanted to read more of the genre that I loved, gothic suspense, I checked out other books written by Holt. Victoria Holt's real name was Eleanor HIbbert, and she was quite prolific, writing under several different names. I really got into one of the pseudonyms, Philippa Carr. These books weren't really suspense, although at times, there were suspenseful moments. The Carr books follow the family line through a succession of females from the time of Henry VIII to World War II. There are only 19 books in the series, and I think I only read a handful of the later ones. They are available on Kindle for a reasonable price, so over time, I got all 19 books. I started reading the first in the series The Miracle at St. Bruno's, and it reminded me of the others that I read.

Damask Farland is the heroine of the book, and obviously the start of the line of strong women who get involved with strong men. The miracle in the title is the baby who is found in the crib at the local abbey altar at Christmas one year. The boy is named Bruno, and he is raised by the monks. However, in the time of Henry VIII, there is a good deal of religious upheaval. Henry basically got rid of the church because he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The reader learns about all the things going on in Henry's court and the country through mostly secondhand stories told by Damask and her cousin Kate. Anyway, the abbey is dismantled, and Bruno is exposed as love child between a Damask's female servant and a monk. Bruno vanishes one day shortly after the abbey is emptied, and he is gone for a few years. Kate marries a lord and quickly has a boy. Damask's father is imprisoned and beheaded for harboring a former monk. When Bruno comes back, he marries Damask, and surprises of surprises, he has enough money to restore the abbey. There is a lot of tension between Damask, her step-father, Simon Caseman (who betrayed Damask's father to get her father's lands), and Bruno. Things also don't go well when Damask is only able to produce a female child.

All in all, the book is a classic start to the stories that were published in the Philippa Carr name. There is some romance, some intrigue, some happiness, and some depression. If you like historical novels with strong female characters, you should give the Carr books a try. You will not be disappointed.

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh

cover of Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh
I have been busy with other things, but somehow I managed to finish two books at around the same time. How did I do that, you ask? It's because one was on Kindle and the other was in print from the library. Overture to Death was the print book, and it was a re-read of one of Ngaio Marsh's novels. I've been feeling in the mood for some good classic mysteries and Ngaio Marsh never disappoints. Overture to Death was the eighth Roderick Alleyn book, and it was published in 1939. The plot centers around a small village of Chipping, where two elderly, and by elderly I mean early fifties, women want to make the local rector her own. Eleanor Prentice is the maiden aunt who lives with the local squire and his son, Henry. Henry has his eye on the rector's daughter, Dinah, and Eleanor is apposed to it. Idris Campanula is the other spinster. The local group, with the local doctor and the Mrs Ross, a beautiful newcomer to town, decide to put on a play to pay for a replacement piano. When Idris replaces Eleanor at the piano the night of the play, she is shot in the head by a booby trap in the piano. Alleyn is called in to solve the murder, and there are a tangle of clues to make things even more muddled. This is one of the earlier Alleyn's, so Nigel Bathgate makes an appearance.

Overall, the mystery was not easy to solve, and there were red herrings to wiggle around. My favorite part of any of Marsh's novels is the depiction of the characters. I felt that I could really visualize the characters, and I found myself drawn into the plot. All in all, it was a very enjoyable mystery.

As a note, I loved the cover of the book. Yes, it is rather graphic, but I think that it's eye catching. Don't you just want to read a book with a picture of a dead body sprawled on a piano?