Monday, October 17, 2005

History Fix

I have not been a very happy person of late. Why? Well I'm just really, really stressed out. And since running away to join the circus doesn't seem to be an option, I'm stuck here in Real Life Hell.

This is probably why I've been craving mysteries lately. Unfortunately, I haven't had much of an opportunity to read any. I had to zip through some romances I promised to book trading partners, and now I need to get back into review books. But I did manage to squeeze in one mystery thanks to work.

I saw a promo (or review?) somewhere for Kathy Lynn Emerson's new book Fatal As A Fallen Woman. It is book 2 in a series and my library system hasn't seen fit to order it yet. So, I thought - why not try book 1 and if I really love it I'll buy book 2? So that's how I came to read Deadlier Than The Pen.

Diana Spaulding is a widow living in 1888 New York City. When her actor husband dies, she lands a job at one of the many local newspapers writing a review column (theater and books mainly). However her editor has given her a new assignment. He wants her to dig up a juicy scandal on Damon Bathory, a horror writer who has been giving readings of his works on the theater circuit. Her editor makes it very clear that her job hinges on getting the scoop, and if she fails? Well, she should just make something up!

This doesn't sit well with Diana, mainly because she finds Mr. Bathory distracting. He's handsome, intelligent, and has a way of turning her insides into jelly. However, he's also very mysterious. When Diana's editor uncovers a series of unsolved murders that follow Bathory's touring schedule, she's not sure what to believe? Is she in danger?

Deadlier Than The Pen succeeded in giving me my history fix. There's a lot to like here. Emerson has a nice sense of place and time period, even evoking the infamous blizzard of '88. Settings range from New York City to frontier Maine - all great stuff.

I also liked the characters. Diana in particular is well drawn, and Emerson head-hops into the Damon's character as well. It's just right, and never distracting. Also, the sexual tension is particularly well done. It's easy to see how Emerson once wrote romance novels.

What doesn't work? Well the mystery. It's pretty thin, and it takes a while to get going. The first 75 pages or so are merely devoted to Diana following Damon around the city. After that, the author brings in a traveling acting troupe to beef up the list of potential suspects.

So it was a bit of a mixed bag. Was I sorry I read Deadlier Than The Pen? No. Will I be buying Fatal As A Fallen Woman? Probably not.


Megan Frampton said...

It sounds like I would've tried it, too. But I hate when the mystery is as thin as you say. Have you tried any of Barbara Hambly's historical mysteries? Um, I haven't, but I have two of her books in my pile. It's about a black detective in 1830s New Orleans. Very intriguing to me.

Wendy said...

I know the Hambly series but alas haven't read any of them. Romance keeps me so busy these days that I don't read nearly as many mysteries as I would like.