Monday, January 09, 2017

On This Week in 2005: From Regency England to Modern Japan

With the start of a new year, I thought it was time to take a look back to see what I was reading on this week in January 2005. (Twelve years ago? Yikes!) I was pleased to see that the books are all ones that I rated an "A"-- and that they are very different from each other. Let's get started!

Cut to the Quick is the first of Kate Ross's Julian Kestrel mysteries set in Regency England. The series was a mere four books along when Ross died of cancer, and it was truly a loss for the mystery community. The entire series is marvelous... characters, plot, time period... so if you enjoy historical mysteries and haven't tried these, I highly recommend them. 

Here is a synopsis of Cut to the Quick:

"Julian Kestrel is the walking definition of a Regency-era dandy. He cares about little beyond the perfection of his tailoring, he lives for the bon mot, and his life has the specific gravity and the fleeting charm of a soap-bubble. At least that's what he'd like you to think. In fact, it rather suits Kestrel to be perpetually underestimated, particularly when as in this instance his weekend at a glamorous country estate is spoiled by a dead girl's body being found in his bed.

(Before I move on to the next title, I'd just like to say that I do not like the cover of this edition. That is not a portrait of a Regency woman, and I wouldn't think it would be all that difficult to find one of the proper time period!)

The Judas Pair is the first of Jonathan Gash's long-running Lovejoy mysteries which he wrote from the late 1970s to 2008. I was first introduced to Lovejoy through the television series starring Ian McShane as the title character. Unfortunately, I discovered that I'm not an Ian McShane fan (except for his voice), and-- always believing that the books are better anyway-- I quickly located this first book in the series to see what was what.

What I found was heaven for anyone who loves antiques. Jonathan Gash does an absolutely splendid job of showing Lovejoy's passion for the old and rare. If you don't care for antiques at the beginning, by the end of the book Gash could very well have changed your mind.

However, charming rogue Lovejoy of the books does not date well. I didn't get very far in the series because he likes to slap his women around-- something that they wisely left out of the television series. It's a shame because I haven't run across another author who can take literary fairy dust and make old objects glow with mystery and desire.

Here is a brief synopsis of The Judas Pair:

"Antiques dealer Lovejoy is commissioned to hunt down what he considers to be a mythical object, the Judas pair, the supposed thirteenth pair of dueling pistols made by the famous London gunmaker Durs Egg. After two murders Lovejoy is certain that the pistols do exist, and are now in the hands of the murderer."

In 1997 Natsuo Kirino wrote a mystery that made waves in Japan. When Out was translated into English and published in the U.S., the tsunami continued.

Part of the story is pretty gruesome, and I'm going to let the synopsis take care of that. For me, the gruesome bit has faded with time. What I remember most about it (in no great detail) is how horrible and nasty the disposal of the body was. My major memories are of how spellbinding and psychologically complex it was, and of how I was transported to another country and immersed in a very different culture. Little of the book has dimmed in my mind after twelve years, and I think that's a sign that I should've rated it an A+ back in 2005. 

Here is a synopsis of Out:

"OUT was awarded the Grand Prix of the Mystery Writers of Japan in 1997-the Asian equivalent of an Edgar. It is a dynamic example of the work of a new breed of Asian women writers excelling in the smart, hard-nosed, well-written, and realistically plotted mystery novel. Kirino' crime story can stand comparison with the work of other top-notch Western women writers in this genre, like Sarah Paretsky and Ruth Rendell.

The story-- though a bare summary makes it seem merely brutal and bloodthirsty when it is much more than that- -focuses on four women who work together in a lunch-box factory in the suburbs of Tokyo. One of them suffers from spouse abuse and, unable to take it any longer, murders her husband and appeals to her co-workers to help her dispose of the corpse. One of these friends---the brain behind the coverup-- after cutting up the body in the bathroom of her house-- has the other two dump it as garbage. The money from the man's life insurance is then divided among them. But this is only the beginning. The successful, unpremeditated crime and the rewards it brings are the seed of other, premeditated schemes, escalating from one localized use of violence to a rash of similar deeds, with unpredictable outcomes for the women behind them.

As a study in the psychology of domestic repression and the dynamics of violent crime, OUT works on several levels, gripping the reader from its smoldering beginning to the fire burst of its finale.

That's it! Three very different books, yet they're all mysteries, and each one is excellent reading in its own way. I hope I've enticed you to sample at least one of them.


  1. I always think it's fascinating to look back, as you do, and think about what I was reading at a certain time. Thanks for sharing your journey, Cathy. Oh, and I agree about Lovejoy. I couldn't get past the way he treats women...

    1. Yes. Abuse is never charming or roguish. It's good to see that some things have changed over the years.

  2. I've only read Out of the books mentioned. I have mixed feelings about it. While it conveys a lot about domestic violence and assembly line factory workers, the rape and killing of women really bothered me. It was brutal and gruesome and I thought some aspects went against my pro-feminist views.

    Japanese women's organizations didn't like the book, and I think it was because of some reasons I had a problem with it. I haven't read their views spelled out, but got the gist. I don't want to elaborate further but it's a controversial and complicated book.

    It would have been OK with me without the secondary brutal story line.

    1. It would have been a controversial book even without the things the Japanese women's organizations didn't like.


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