First up, The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. This qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. I'm using it as my 'Free Space' book. I haven't been able to find a 'Medical Mystery' on my shelves and don't wish to buy one. Thus I'm claiming Murder on the Links, which is 'A book set anywhere other than the USA or England', and which I've already fulfilled, as my book for the 'medical mystery' space.
Hercule Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Renauld, a French millionaire. It seems he fears for his life and wants Poirot to come to France immediately to investigate. Poirot and Captain Hastings set off but find on arriving that they're too late and the man has been found dead in a shallow grave on the neighbouring golf-links. His wife is found bound and gagged in their bedroom and is telling a story of intruders who came in the night and dragged her husband away. Naturally the case is complicated. There's a son who was supposed to be on his way to South America but in fact wasn't. There are neighbours, one of whom is making clandestine visits to the house in the middle of the night to meet Monsieur Renauld. And naturally there's the obligatory tramp whose identity no one knows... Poirot sets about investigating and comes up against a modern French detective who is scornful of Poirot's 'little grey cells' methods. Which of them will solve ths case first?
Murder on the Links was only Christie's second Poirot mystery but you would never know it from the quality of the plot and the writing. This one is narrated by Captain Hastings (I assume the later ones, that he's not in, are not but am not sure who narrates those or whether they're written differently) and thus it has a nice vein of humour running through. Especially as Poirot challenges Hastings to try to solve the case alongside himself and the French detective. There's a lovely theme running through the plot too where Poirot's 'thinking' methods come up against the Frenchman's 'Sherlock Holmes' ones of crawling about on the ground looking for clues and so on. Christie was clearly poking gentle fun at the Sherlock Holmes books. There are red herrings aplenty and, it has to be said, a few moments where you wonder why everyone but Poirot is Really Stupid. But that said, this is a very enjoyable romp of a crime yarn and I really did enjoy it.
Next, Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. This is my book 13 for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.
The place is the city of Astrient and the time is Midsummer with the annual fair rapidly approaching. It's always a busy time for the local points officers - police force - but this year is doubly so. The stars predict the death of the queen and as she has no heir the succession is very much open to question. The various candidates are vying for position and the atmosphere in the city is tense. At this time of year children often go missing too. Unhappy with their apprenticeship positions, or at home, they often run off with traders at the fair or sign up for the military.
It comes to the attention of Adjunct Pointsman, Nicolas Rathe, that this year more children than usual have gone missing - children who were quite happy and had no reason to run off. It's also quite clear that traders haven't taken them as the fair has barely begun. So where are all these children?
Philip Eslingen is newly released from the army and comes to live in the city, working as a 'knife' (security person) for a local inn come hotel. The hotel is popular with the ex-military and people of his nationality and somehow it gets about that this hotel is involved in the disappearances of the children. The trouble this causes brings him into contact with Nico Rathe and the two men set about trying to find out what's happened to over 80 children. It's an incredibly difficult case as there are no clues and the atmosphere in the city is strained and dangerous. Dark forces are at work and the two men will need all their ingenuity to solve this mystery.
Sometimes a book just hits the spot and this was one of those times for me. A book that straddles both the fantasy *and* crime genres is a bit of a rarity. Terry Pratchett's 'Sam Vimes' books spring immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are others. For me personally these books are usually winners as I'm a big fan of both of course. Having said that, the book is also science-fiction as it mentions the planet having two suns and things like 'first sunset' and 'second sunset', so I suppose it's really a bit of a hybrid.
Whatever it is, I really enjoyed this one. It's a world where astrology is real. People get their stars read based on their actual time of birth and whatever is forecast happens and people set a lot of store by it. Astrologers are hugely respected within society and even have their own university. Sexuality on this world is very fluid, people have heterosexual and homosexual relationships and all is normal. (Though this is not in 'any' way an explicit book.) I really, really like that approach and wish more authors of fantasy and sci-fi took it.
What else? Well, the world-building within the novel is quite stunning. It reminded me of the kind of detail Robin Hobb includes in her books. The city of Astrient with all its complications and peculiarities, its heaving, medieval, type population, it's poverty, its cramped conditions, feels so real. The authors have made it come alive in the same way that Terry Pratchett made Ankh Morpork feel like a real place. Amazing.
The mystery element was also well done. For the first part of the book it took second place rather but that was because the authors spent time introducing the characters, letting us get to know who they were and what they were about and, of course, explaining the world in which they live. So that was fine with me, and the book got even better when they began to concentrate on where the children had disappeared to.
All in all, for me, a stonking good read. There are a couple more books and a novella and I plan to read all of them. It's so nice to discover a new series that really works for you and many thanks to byslantedlight for reccing this series to me.