Weekend Reads: “Sin Eater”

Sin EaterSin Eater by Megan Campisi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m almost unsure where to start in reviewing ‘Sin Eater.’ In a thinly disguised Elizabethan era, 16-year-old May is sentenced to become a sin eater as punishment for stealing some bread. This mean that no one may speak to her unless they are making a deathbed confession; then, she must eat certain foods to consume the sins.

As we learn more about May’s difficult life, we discover that she’s both observant and talkative. Learning to tamp down the chatty side of her personality is difficult, but she quickly discovers that she’s still able to make observations, even without anyone to tell them to.

This is how she becomes embroiled in a mystery in the palace. The queen’s governess is dying, and makes her confession to May. However, when May comes to eat the required foods, there’s something unexpected on the platter: a deer’s heart. The lady didn’t confess to a sin that required consuming this food; in fact, it’s not even on the list of foods May knows. So, she starts paying attention, because the deaths around the palace start coming even faster. And soon, May is in danger herself because she just might know too much.

This book is not only a good look at women’s roles in the Tudor era, and how circumscribed they were, but also at the dark side of religion. The faith in this fictional “Angland” is so strict that it borders on Puritanism … and no one may step an inch outside their expected role and escape punishment for it.

I was gripped by this book from the first page. Not only is it a good mystery (and a fair play puzzle at that), but it’s also a near-allegory for what could be happening today with the increasing strictures on women’s roles due to the religious right. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “The Devil’s Half Mile”

The Devil's Half MileThe Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Justy Flanagan has come “home” to New York from Ireland, with a newly-minted law degree and a determination to prove that his father’s death was no suicide. His uncle, known locally as The Bull, is deep in some underworld scheme, and Justy is sure that the matters are related.

This historical mystery, taking place in the late 18th Century as the earliest stock markets are being established, is peopled with complicated characters. It’s clear that Justy is dealing with what we now understand as PTSD, as he was one of the Irish defenders against the English and saw some horrific things in battle. His childhood friend, Kerry, a woman of mixed ethnicity, has changed in the four years he’s been gone … and, in some ways, not for the better. His greatest ally, Lars, is a ship’s captain who looks like a ruffian but has unplumbed depths. We even, briefly, see Alexander Hamilton and other historical figures grace the pages.

The book not only gives an outstanding historical perspective, but is also a bang-up fair play puzzle. All of the pieces are there for the reader to see, and yet the numerous “reveals” are satisfying. It’s a complicated tale, and one that will keep readers turning pages long into the night. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “Trial of Passion”

Hi, everyone. Now that the A-to-Z Challenge is over for 2020, I’m getting back to my regular features. Here is this week’s review.

Trial of Passion (Arthur Beauchamp, #1)Trial of Passion by William Deverell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book during Left Coast Crime 2019 and, as I work my way through my to-be-read pile, finally got to it.

Arthur Beauchamp has retired from his law practice and is living on a quiet island in British Columbia. He’s coming to terms with his shattered marriage, and getting to know his new community. However, one of his former partners begs him to come back and defend a fellow lawyer who’s been charged with sexual assault. After a while, Arthur reluctantly agrees.

What follows is part courtroom procedural, part reading of evidentiary transcripts, and part contemporary romance as Arthur, who is no longer a young man, contemplates re-entering the dating scene and all that comes with it.

I found the look into the Canadian court system fascinating to compare and contrast with that in the US (my experience has solely been as a juror). I also enjoyed the insights into the various characters that came from the parts of the book where Arthur is either reading transcripts or listening to evidence tapes. It gave a number of extra clues as to what was happening with both the plaintiff and the defendant in the case. However, the highest marks go for when Arthur is at home on Garibaldi, where we meet his new neighbors. Most of them are most politely described as eccentric, and every one of them is entertaining and believable.

Nicely done.

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Weekend Reads: “Officer Clemmons: A Memoir”

Officer Clemmons: A MemoirOfficer Clemmons: A Memoir by François S. Clemmons

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If, like me, you grew up with “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” you doubtless remember Officer Clemmons, the local police officer. One of the most powerful moments on the show involved Fred Rogers sharing his wading pool with Francois Clemmons during a time when black people were not allowed to share public swimming pools with white people.

Anyway, Dr. Francois Clemmons has written a beautiful and poignant memoir about his career as an opera singer, his work on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” … and the challenges of growing up not only black, but gay. In a time of segregation and “the closet,” he had a lot of challenges to face.

Clemmons also talks about the various mentors who helped him along the way, including Rogers himself, and how they accepted him regardless of what the social climate was at the time. I found myself smiling, nodding, and yes, crying, at different times when I read this book.

Clemmons was a Neighbor to all of us, and I was tremendously moved by his story. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “In The Shadow of Vesuvius”

In the Shadow of Vesuvius (Lady Emily #14)In the Shadow of Vesuvius by Tasha Alexander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lady Emily Hargreaves, her husband Colin, and her friend Ivy all travel to Pompeii for what they think will be some rest and relaxation. The Edwardian “craze” for archaeology has Lady Emily fascinated by what she’s about to see, particularly as she’s a student of the classics.

Pretty soon, though, she and her family are faced with an unexpected surprise: her husband’s illegitimate daughter from a previous relationship turns up in Italy, and is causing them all kinds of problems. And then there are the deaths that seem to follow the party wherever they go. Soon, someone who knows that Lady Emily understands all of the references is sending warnings based on classic literature … and trying to keep the party away from Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Having spent time in both of the primary locations of the novel, it was delightful for me to be able to visualize the scenes. While excavations were not as complete in the book’s time period (and the author is very careful about that), readers will still get an excellent look into the process.

On top of that, it’s a fair play cozy, with all of the clues right in front of you … even though there are numerous red herrings along the way. The book was peopled with believable characters and situations, and captured the period well. Highly recommended.

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