City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

city of dark magic

2 out of 5 stars.

Welp, that was disappointing. It is all dolled up to look like a science fiction/ fantasy and it ends up being a murder mystery/ thriller. I kind of feel cheated.

Our protagonist is a horny (this is a surprisingly large part of her personality) but otherwise bland Beethoven scholar named Sarah Weston. She is hired for the summer to catalogue a group of Beethoven scores and memorabilia that is part of a larger private collection in Prague. Her mentor committed suicide earlier working on the same project. She goes and is quickly convinced her mentor did not commit suicide but was killed. She is now surrounded by fellow academics, all of whom could be a murderer.

This books was a ¬†messy hodgepodge of a large number of different elements. Part of the book is a mystery around the Beethoven artifacts, with Sarah uncovering new elements in the collection that redefine her understanding of the composer. Another part is a science fiction plot with time travelling drugs that may or may not be driving people mad. The third part is a thriller surrounding the “suicide” of the Beethoven Professor. The fourth is a political thriller involving a US senator being a former FBI spy during the Cold War. The fifth (and my favourite), is Sarah’s relationship with a blind child prodigy piano player. Any one of these elements, or at most two, could have made an interesting book, but as it is, none of them were properly explored enough to be interesting. There was way too much going on in this book, and the elements were disparate enough that combining them would have taken a huge amount of finesse and a ton of room. I found this book confusing and pulling in too many direction. The science fiction elements seem thrown in just for kicks, and we could have completely done without the Senator and the KGB plot line.

Our protagonist did not have much memorable about her (besides her first group dinner in Prague involving her being fingered under the table and then sexed up in the washroom with one of her new coworkers). Her only passions are sex and Beethoven, and neither of them are explored enough to make her a real character. The other scholars are thrown at us too quickly to really distinguish them as people. The only way I could try to keep track is that one has a ridiculous accent and one really liked weapons. They are not fleshed out and there are too many in a short amount of time for them to be remembered.

If you are looking for something that covers a huge range of genres, maybe pick this up. I would not recommend it though.

Virals by Kathy Reichs

virals

3 out of 5 stars

While good, I misread the genre on this one pretty completely. Everything I had read about it led me to believe that this was going to be a science fiction novel about a group of teens who got mutant superpowers. Instead, it turns out to largely be a mystery, with the superpowers being a fairly unimportant part of the plot.

Tory lives in a research compound almost purely inhabited by scientists and their offspring. After finding a wolf pup being illegally experimented on, Tory and her friends save it, but end up being exposed to a tampered form of a virus that starts to change their DNA. They also uncover a mystery that has been lurking around the island for years in the form of a girl who mysteriously went missing years ago.

Despite my misreading, it actually turned out to be an interesting book. The heightened senses of the group help them solve the crime and the narrative voice is clear and punchy. It was a neat idea for a book. On the downside, the integration between the two genres was not as seamless as I might hope. While the science fiction mutations help, they are not important enough to the story that it is inconceivable that everything could have proceeded just as well without them, and due to the time spent worrying about the mutated virus, the mystery portions seem a little rushed and forced. The surprise ending was hard to see coming and satisfying and I enjoyed the prose, but the book seems a little too short or a little too unfinished. It reads like two separate stories got slammed into one another and never completely melded.

The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

the last word

4 out of 5 stars

This is completely and utterly hilarious. Getting me to read mysteries is usually a chore and a half but this series is written with so much good humour that the books are impossible to resist.

The stories centre around a family that runs a private investigation business. Isabel, one of the two daughters, is the main protagonist. It is mainly her voice driving the stories and her narration has me giggling out loud quite a bit. It isn’t the detective work that makes me love these stories, though that is well written and clever, but the interactions between Isabel and her family. They are all dysfunctional but loving. Since they are Private Eyes, they have the ability to get involved with each others’ business more than is normal.

I read this more as a comedy novel than a mystery. What I don’t like about mysteries is blood and gore, so this series is fabulous. It is a funny and light and engaging intro to mysteries for those that are transitioning into the genre. The characters are wacky and weird, but oddly realistic for, at times, seeming like caricatures. These books really illustrate well how frustrating, maddening, and annoying families and relationships can be. Isabel is a fantastic protagonist because she is strong, but still screws up a hell of a lot. She is a person I can imagine meeting. I wish this series didn’t end, but I think the author was right to end on a strong note. It would have been a shame to see such an enjoyable series jump the shark. I will definitely be rereading all of these anytime I need a guaranteed laugh.