Monday, February 20, 2012
"A good solid mystery..." Thank you, Bristol Public Library!
Review from the Bookblog of the Bristol Library
Things finally seem to be looking up for graduate student Dulcie Schwartz. She’s settled in with her boyfriend Chris after her own apartment was destroyed and things are good between them. Her new kitten Esme is becoming dearer to her every day, even if she does like to nip. Dulcie still gets a word or two of comfort and wisdom from her dearly departed cat, Mr. Grey, although he insists on being cryptic. Best of all, she is finally making some progress on her thesis about The Ravages of Umbria, an incomplete gothic novel written in the eighteenth century by an unknown author. Dulcie is determined to try to identify her and try to discover what happened to this courageous, free-thinking woman. Dulcie’s so obsessed that she’s begun to dream about her.
A frantic phone call turns everything upside down. Dulcie’s friend and fellow student Trish calls to say the police have been by to question her and that she’s suspected of homicide. In her efforts to help, Dulcie finds people sometimes aren’t who they claim to be, that books may be haunted, and a valuable clue to her mystery author may be hiding in plain sight.
This is the fifth in the Dulcie Schwartz series and for me, it’s the most successful. Simon has found the perfect tone—voice, if you will—for Mr. Grey and Esme, and given Dulcie some much needed stability in her life. She feels more comfortable with herself. Having a ghostly guide is a problematical thing in most books; either our heroine (it’s usually a she) keeps fighting the idea or else serves as a deus ex machina to clear up plot lines. Having a ghostly guide who’s a cat may sound just too precious for words, but it’s handled very well. Mr. Grey, while offering a word or two, believes kittens, be they human or feline, need to find their own way in the world; he tends to limit his comments to general instructions, such as “Things are not always as they seem.” Mostly he is there for a bit of psychic moral support which Dulcie needs after a life of near-rootlessness and abandonment by her father. I especially like the dynamic in this book between Mr. Grey and Esme, who have brief conversations; he treats Esme much the same way he treats Dulcie.
Equally pleasurable is the parallel that runs between Dulcie’s life and that of her unknown author. Dulcie is so close to the work that she doesn’t see, leaving the reader to feel a bit like Mr. Grey, knowing that we see something Dulcie can’t. The cast of characters, especially Dulcie’s New Age mother, are likeable. English majors will identify with Dulcie’s frustrations in researching and proving her thesis, but non-academics won’t have any trouble following that aspect of the book. In fact, I’m beginning to become as curious as Dulcie as to who this author might have been!
In short, this is a good solid mystery which is fun without being silly, and which melts my cat lover’s heart whenever Esme and/ or Mr. Grey are on the scene!