I’m going to break a habit with this post – it’s the 200th post of my little blog and to celebrate – I’m going to write another book review! Sorry, no summaries, no best of… lists – if you want one of those, I wrote one a couple of weeks ago for my 50000th visit, and I’d hate to repeat myself too much. But this is sort of a special review.
One of the unexpected bonuses of my little blog is the contact that I’ve had from various authors, be it established authors in the genre, such as Martin Edwards or Steve Hockensmith, or relative newcomers to the field, such as Nev Fountain or Bernadette Pajer. Even the occasional message thanking me for a review, a completely unnecessary gesture, by the way, will always make my day.
After I recently reviewed The Square Root of Murder, Ada Madison (aka Camille Minichino) was nice enough to send me a signed copy of the sequel, The Probability of Murder – I was so touched by this that I’ve decided to make it the subject of my bicentennial post. So, let’s hope it’s a good one.
To recap – we’re in cozy territory here. To clarify the use of the word cozy, I’m referring to the genre that seems to have sprung up in an attempt to imitate the Agatha Christie style while simultaneously missing the point completely. The genre has long since moved away from this idea, and now seems to be mostly defined by two rules – minimal blood and guts and, if possible, the sleuth must possess a distinctive career, hobby or both. Hence the existence of The Cheese Shop Mysteries, The Magical Dressmaking Mysteries or, to show how precise the individual series can be, The Cat In The Stacks series, featuring a librarian with a crime-solving cat. And now that I’ve mentioned all of these, found by a very quick search on Amazon, I realise that to be fair, I’m going to have to read them. Well, I’ve been meaning to take a serious look at the cozy world anyway…
Anyway, nothing quite so esoteric here. The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries feature, yes, Professor Sophie Knowles, a mathematics professor, a puzzle setter and a part-time beader (although it seems now that she only does it to bond with her friend Ariana and isn’t, in fact, very good at it.) The maths and puzzles bit was what made the first book stand out to me when it was reviewed in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as I am also a mathematics teacher and a puzzle solver.
So, in The Probability of Murder, Sophie’s friend Charlotte is found murdered in the college library, but no sooner has Sophie started sticking her nose in, it is revealed that her friend was really a con artist with a criminal record as long as your arm. So who was Charlotte really, and what had she done to get herself killed?
This is another jolly little romp. There are some nice mathematical tit-bits in the story which I thought were integrated well into the text – and ditto the puzzle aspects, which I thought were a little heavy-handed in the previous book. And even the beading serves the plot well. There are some odd scenes, notably when Sophie and Ariana distract themselves by talking about their favourite paradoxes (!) but I figure that this is so strange that it must be based on real conversations that the author (also a physics and maths teacher) has had with her friends. It’s written in the first person and Sophie is a charming, clever narrator – her intelligence shines through.
One thing though – and it is quite a big thing – I think for any seasoned reader of crime fiction, the killer sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not going to hint at why, as that will give the game away, and I’d never spoil a book. Points off as well for the critical clue appearing in the paragraph immediately before the killer reveals themself! Talk about last minute. But it says a lot that I still enjoyed the book despite this. It’s a fun read that keeps you entertained. Recommended.
I have to agree with you that it’s a great honour to hear from the authors after you review a book of theirs. It’s a kind gesture and, as you point out, completely unnecessary from their part– and when they are pleased with the review, I have to admit that few things please me more. One of the kindest comments I’ve ever had was from Bill Pronzini when I reviewed his (brilliant!!!) book SHACKLES.
As for this book– it sounds fun. I do remember the prime number fiasco from the last review (and again I’d like to defend our disinterested Canadian use of the word “math” instead of “maths”), but that book sounded enjoyable overall. So does this one. Sometimes, you just come across a book that’s really enjoyable to read even if the killer is obvious. Heck, that’s kind of the situation I came across with Bill Pronzini’s SAVAGES, but the rest of the book was strong enough so that it didn’t upset my reading experience. (And sometimes, as in SHACKLES or books like Richard Stark’s THE HUNTER, puzzle aspects simply don’t matter. If a book never pretends it is a fair-play mystery, that’s fine with me. My major problems come from books where the detective literally overhears a killer confessing to someone else and then calls the cops and takes credit for solving the case. I am not exaggerating in the slightest– I ought to write a retrospective review of that book…)
Anyhow, congrats on the bicentennial! BTW, completely off-topic: do you notice a recent spike in blog activity related to SHERLOCK? My post on Series 1 has almost 300 views in the last week alone– I assume it’s because the US release date is drawing near…
I read something recently where the sleuth only worked out who the killer was because the villain was standing in front of them trying to kill them… Have completely forgotten which book it was though – probably a good thing.
No Sherlock spike that I’ve noticed, by the way. In fact, my visits have been trailing off a bit recently since the January Sherlock boom – for a while it was 200+ every day, but now it’s averaging 150ish. I think it’s partly due to my choice to mostly “champion” not very well known books but at the end of the day, it hardly matters 🙂
Congratulations on the success of your blog and keep up the good work. I’ve yet to have an author I’ve favorably reviewed offer me an autographed copy of a sequel, or even a review copy. It must be nice.
Well, it’s 1 out of 140 actual reviews, so it doesn’t happen that often.
Oh, I tell a lie, Steve Hockensmith offered me an ebook of the Holmes on the Range short stories, but I already have it – review coming soon, in fact.
But I don’t do this for the hope of a freebie – if anything, I see my reviews as a way of saying thanks for a good read – if I can increase sales of an author that I’ve enjoyed, then that’s a job well done. And fingers crossed, I don’t affect the sales too much of an author that I didn’t enjoy.
Congrats on your second century mate – and let me say you are looking very good considering the mileage!
Congrats on the 200th post!
And there you go again, dangling an academic mystery in front of me. It looks like I’m just going to have to give this author a try.
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[…] it’s cozy time. I figured that in my recent review of The Probability of Murder, I may have been a bit dismissive of the genre, so I figured that it was only fair to give it a […]