Arsenic and Old Books: a cat in the stacks mystery by Miranda James
When last I wrote about the “Cat in the Stacks” mysteries (here) I said that the series was basically over because the whole cast except for the cat was going off to France (for reasons I have forgotten). Well, I guess they’re back.
At the start of the book, Charlie and Diesel are in Charlie’s office, waiting on the arrival of the Mayor of Athena (the Mississippi town they live in), who has some family documents that she wishes to donate to the College Library Archives (Charlie’s department). In fact, what she has are several volumes of an ancestor’s diary; a many-times great-grandmother who lived through the civil war and the occupation of the city by the Union Army. The volumes were found just recently and she wants them stored properly and made available to others (especially students). Her son is planning to run for her husband’s state senate seat when the husband retires and she feels that people knowing what an amaxing woman her great-great etc grandmother was will make them appreciate the family more, and vote for her son (or something. Charlie isn’t exactly sure what she means).
Charlie needs a few days to prepare the books and make sure they are in good enough shape for people to handle, so he’s a bit disconcerted to get two demands for access to them immediately: one from a student (or a woman claiming to be a student) who claims to be studying the mayor’s family, and one from a professor who’s so unpopular a Straw Feminist that she is on the verge of losing her job, never mind ever getting tenure. She wants exclusive access! Charlie turns them both down, but the professor, Marie Steverton, says that she has an in with the Mayor and will get that access! No one thinks that she can actually do it, but it turns out she can. However, before Charlie can make the diaries available (procedures have to be followed to make sure the old documents can be safely loaned out) they are stolen from his office and Marie Steverton is killed. Run over by a car. It might be an accident. It might not . . .
Charlie’s investigation leads him into local politics, but the story as a whole is fairly gentle. It’s a good mystery, and a nice time hanging out with friends.
What Angels Fear: a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery by C. S. Harris
A re-read. First mentioned, briefly, here. The start of an interesting series set in the Regency period of British history. Still recommended.
Garrett Takes The Case: Old Tin Sorrows, Dread Brass Shadows, and Red Iron Nights by Glen Cook
The second Garrett omnibus includes the second three novels of the series.
Old Tin Sorrows starts with Garrett’s old sergeant dropping by the house to collect on an old favour: down in the Cantard, when Garrett was badly injured, Sergeant Peters carried him to safety. Now that Peters is retired and working for retired General Stantnor, who had been their Colonel back in the day, he needs Garrett to come out to the estate and find out who is stealing from the old man — if in fact anyone is; the Colonel may be mistaken on that. But one thing Peters is sure of: someone is trying to kill the old man. Possibly by poison. The killer is the one Peters really wants caught, though if Garrett finds a thief as well, fine.
What Garrett finds on the General’s secluded estate outside of Town is a nice collection of suspects, the General’s sexy daughter, and another woman, a blonde, who only Garrett seems to be able to spot. It soon becomes apparent that there is a killer on the scene, though neither Garrett nor any of the experts he brings in can identify what poison is being administered to the General, nor how; but the cast of live suspects is quickly exchanged for a pile of dead suspects, not all of whom stay lying down. In the end it’s a dark, grim story, lightened only by the arrival of Maya to cheer Garrett up (I was mistaken last time, by the way, when I said that this would be the last appearance of Maya in the series. She reappears several times after this, though only in the background and never, so far, with a speaking role).
Dread Brass Shadows begins with Garrett finally deciding to get some exercise, jogging around the block. Tinnie Tate has been on the outs with him for a while, but it looks like she’s ready to make up–but before she can get through the crowd she’s knifed from behind by a stranger. Garrett and Saucerhead catch the guy, but before they can interrogate him he’s killed by a sniper–one of a group of snipers who nearly kill our heroes as well.
Fortunately, Tinnie seems likely to recover. Whoever sent the attacker out is not only going to have to face the wrath of Garrett and his friends, but also of the Tate family.
A couple of days later, as Garrett is getting ready to do his running again, a frightened, naked red-head stumbles through his door and collapses on the floor, unconscious. She later vanishes from the house without a trace.
Then a third red-head shows up. A former chambermaid from the house of an out-of-town baron, she wants to frustrate the plans of a witch known as “The Serpent”; no one knows what the Serpent looks like (at least, no one who doesn’t work for her) but she was working on a “book of dreams or book of shadows” (which Garrett eventually learns is a thing from dwarfish lore: a book of brass pages, each of which describes a being and allows the holder of the book to take on the form of that being, with all its abilities. This leads to the dwarfs adding a side to the many seeking the book). It is apparent that Tinnie was stabbed because she was taken for this girl.
Things get really complicated when Chodo Contague, Tunfaire’s kingpin of crime, also gets involved in the hunt for the book. Chodo has been paralysed for years, exerting his will through his right- and left-hand men, Sadler and Crask. Now it is apparent that he sees the book as a way to get out of his wheelchair, and Sadler and Crask see their hopes of taking over his empire on his death fading. This leads them to turn against Chodo, and Chodo decides Garrett must be with them . . . which means that Garrett has to join them, if only in self-defense.
Adding to all the confusion is a new ongoing character, Winger. A tall, statuesque blonde from the country, Winger sees herself as a fellow tough-guy and has the skills, if not the brains, to back it up.
Less dark than the previous one, though not without its moments, this one is a bit like the Maltese Falcon, albeit they actually do, in fact, find the bird.
Red Iron Nights has Garrett stopping in to the Joy House, Morley’s restaurant, to visit with his friends when a lovely young woman dressed entirely in black (in our world and time, we’d call her a Goth) comes in, pursued by a badly-scarred man and a couple of thugs, along with an old man in a coach. Having pursued the girl into the worst possible bar, they also chose the worst possible girl to pursue: she’s Chodo’s daughter, Belinda.
Though the events of the last book should have taken Chodo out of the game, in fact he’s still nominally kingpin. Now totally paralysed, he’s a near-literal puppet for Sadler and Crask. Belinda will eventually want Garrett to help her rescue her father. Just mentioning that a bit out of order.
Garrett is eventually approached by Captain Westman Block, commander of the Watch, who wants his help catching a serial killer. There are probably a few of those around Tunfaire, but this one is ritually killing young rich women. Young, rich black-haired women.
Turns out, no surprise, to be the guy in the coach who was after Belinda. Garrett and Morley catch him. Tons of evidence. No question about it. But two weeks later, another girl dies. Same ritual. Same evidence. The Watch is spooked. Garrett’s spooked. The Dead Man is somewhat concerned. This is more than just a killer. This is some kind of communicable curse. Can Garrett stop this before the curse gets to Belinda? Can he help Belinda take down Sadler and Crask? Will the Dead Man get religion?
For a story about a serial killer who can’t be stopped this is not as dark as it could be, though it helps to have Old Tin Sorrows starting the collection off. Block and the reformed Watch become recurring characters as the series goes forward.
The whole series continues to be highly recommended.