Book Review: The Case of the Famished Parson (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #15) by George Bellairs

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Ipso Books
Publication Date: April 17th, 2016
Pages: 207, Kindle
Source: NetGalley

Dr. James Macintosh, the Bishop of Greyle, was a mysterious man; for a long time, nobody even knew his last name. But things take a turn for the bizarre when his body is found emaciated and battered having being pushed face-first off the edge of a cliff…

Inspector Littlejohn faces an incredibly peculiar case. How to explain the savage murder of a gentle Bishop? Did he know too much about the secretive citizens of Cape Marvin, the seaside resort of his murder? Or did the reason have something to do with the strange family he had left behind in Medhope?

Above all, why was the Bishop’s body so undernourished that death by violence won out by only a few days over death by starvation?

The Littlejohn mysteries are like comfort food. You know you’re going to get a solid police procedural with quirky characters, great descriptions, and a satisfying mystery.

In The Case of the Famished Parson, published in 1949, Britain is still under post-WWII rationing. Littlejohn and his wife, Letty, are on vacation at a seaside resort. This turns into a busman’s holiday for Littlejohn, after fellow hotel guest and Bishop of Greyle is found dead at the local golf course. Who wanted to kill the bishop, when he was close to starvation anyway?

Littlejohn and Cromwell investigate and the mystery is brought to a satisfying close.

One thing that has stood out for me, in the couple of these that I’ve read so far, is that Bellairs seems to include a description of roadkill in each book. These are unpleasant little jolts in otherwise lovely stories.

Book Review: Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Pages: 512, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Hugo award-nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner—caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought to employ them.

Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing—is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will affect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht is a female-powered SF adventure. A misfit band of mercenaries goes on a suicide mission to defend a colony of the indigenous population from the evil head of a the corporation controlling the planet.

This is a fairly strong debut, and Leicht has obviously benefitted from her support team. Although there are a few info dumps early on, they’re handled well enough that they didn’t detract from the story for me. Angel, Sukyi, Enid, and Lou do bad things for good reasons and are engaging antiheroines who will have you rooting for them as they take on relationships, terminal illness, evil overlords, and giant bears.

There are multiple queer characters, and given that this seems to be normal in their society, I was a bit confused about the emphasis the author put on describing the gender of everyone encountered, even minor throwaway characters like the corporate mercenaries. Still, it was great to see a wide representation of people, human and non-human.

The artificial intelligences in the book are maybe not quite as engaging as Angel and her team, but they are complex, and have formed relationships and bonds of their own. If there’s a sequel to this, I hope Leicht explores not only the “Sisters,” but Zhang, as well.

Book Review: A Whisker of a Doubt (Cat Cafe Mystery #4) by Cate Conte

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: December 1st, 2020
Pages: 324, mass market paperback
Source: NetGalley

The fourth in a mystery series from author Cate Conte, A Whisker of a Doubt is filled with felines and crime that’s purrrrfect for cat fanciers and mystery solvers alike!

Cat cafe owner Maddie James is trying to talk herself out of having a blue Christmas–relationship woes aren’t worth it, are they?–by throwing herself into work. The renovations on Grandpa Leo’s house-turned-cat-cafe are nearly complete, and she has a lot of organizing to do. Plus, she’s part of a volunteer contingency caring for a feral cat colony in one of the richest neighborhoods on the island. But not everyone has a soft spot for community cats, and lately things have been getting contentious between the neighbors and the volunteers.

Things take a turn for the worse when one of the residents, Virgil Proust, is found face-first in a snowbank after being bludgeoned with a Christmas gnome and Maddie’s rescue pal Katrina is blamed for the murder. Maddie doesn’t believe it, but to help her friend, she has to figure out who done it–before someone gets away with the purr-fect crime.

Maddie’s back in the fourth Cat Café mystery, A Whisker of a Doubt. Katrina, Maddie’s friend and the local animal control officer, has been accused of murdering one of the residents of a community where Maddie and other volunteers have been caring for a feral cat colony.

I want to like this series more than I do. The writing style is good, and I love most of the characters. Rescues are one of my causes, as well. But Maddie is just exhausting. She namedrops her retired police officer grandfather and hospital executive father in attempts to get her own way. She thinks a lawyer has control over a client’s bail, and should chip in to pay said bail. She whines about how things aren’t fair and demands that people do things that clearly won’t work. When her friends try to give her a reality check, she lashes out, even admitting she’s a jerk, but she does it anyway.

Other characters attribute qualities to her that she clearly does not possess. Her grandfather says that she would have made a good police officer, but Maddie is far too immature and her kneejerk reactions are all emotional. Her friend Cass says that Maddie can tell when people are lying, but Maddie mentions several times how she’s been lied to in relationships. 

Then there are the plot issues. There are several implausible scenes, and one that is only there to provide drama. No details, because of spoilers, but a local small-town cop is not going to have access to do a large-scale search in the records of jurisdictions in other states to find dirt on someone. Also, even assuming that you get only one phone call in jail, wouldn’t you have the sense to call someone who can handle things for you? It just felt contrived. 

The premise is good and, if Maddie would just grow up, the series would be enjoyable.